Thursday 24 September 2015

The Giant's Causeway

Our readers, perhaps, may be apt, in the words of an Irish tourist, to exclaim, when they see our wood-cut — "this Causeway, that every tourist has trampled on, that has been sketched, etched, and lithographed, described by antiquarians, geologists and poets, system-builders and book makers, and what not" — why show us and tell us what everybody knows?

In lately travelling from Dublin to Belfast, we happened to enjoy, as companions, a "traveller" for a Manchester firm, and a rough, ruddy-faced farmer from the black north. The conversation turned on the Causeway. "Oh!" exclaimed the "Rider" for Messrs. Twist, Bobbin, Bale, and Co. "I was there last Spring. I just looked at it, on my way from Coleraine to Ballycastle — never was so disappointed in life, 'pon honor — terrible cold dreary coast — wind from the northeast enough to cut me in two — dreadful hungry place, I assure you, gentlemen — not a morsel to satisfy the cravings of nature — not being a geologist, saw nothing to gratify my curiosity, and can't, for the life of me, conceive why people should go to stare at ugly promontories, jutting out into the sea, and that ere sea is troublesome enough, I daresay, when the wind is high — not even a tree to shelter the poor goats that were glad to hide themselves under basaltic rocks and frowning precipices — Irishmen should come and see our Giant's Causeway, the magnificent Railway — that's a stupendous work, gentlemen — it goes between Liverpool and Manchester, and facilitates prodigiously the transaction of business — but that useless stupid affair — ha! ha! ha!"

The wrath of the man of Antrim was aroused. "You Englishmen," said he to the dealer in soft goods, "are all for business and the making of money. Why, man alive, if a dacent place that I know about, is paved with goold, some of yees would he after getting a pickaxe to pocket the paving stones! Did'nt ould Fin Mc Coul all as one as make that Causeway for the honour and glory of Ireland? And what the use o' talking about your dirty bit o' a Railway? Sure, arn't they going to have one from Dublin to Dunleary? We'll bate the conceit out o' yees, by and bye!"

Mr. Trussellbags adjusted his neckcloth, and with a knowing wink to me rejoined, "And pray, my good fellow, for what purpose did this Fin Mc Coul make the Causeway? Perhaps you can tell us."

"With all my heart. You see, Sir, a big Scotch giant, one Benandonner, used to brag that he would lick Fin Mc Coul any day. And he used to go over the Highlands, crowing like a cock on its own dunghill, that all he wanted was a fair field and no favour. So, by my souks, Fin c Coul went to the King of Ireland — ould Cormac may'be ye've heerd o' him — there was no grand jury presentments in them days — and he says to his majesty, says he, I wunt to let Benandonner come over to Ireland widout wetting the sole o' his shoe, and if I don't lather him as well as ever he was lathered in his life, its not myself that's in it! So Fin Mc Coul got lave to build the Causeway, and sure he did, all the road clane and nate, to Scotland — and Benandonner came over wid his broad sword and his kilt, and right glad he was to get a dacent excuse for laving his own country. He was bate, of coorse, though he stuck up like a Trojan; and then he settled in the place, and became obedient to King Cormac, and got a purty dacent girl to his wife; and they say that the great earls of Antrim are descended from them."

"Well, now, but what became of the bridge? We just see an abutment, if I may so express myself, of it at Bengore, and I am told that at Staffa, a prodigious way across the sea, another abutment may be seen — but the bridge, what became of the bridge?"

"Is it the bridge your after spaking about? Sure, that's neither your concarn nor mine: but I'll tell you a bit o' a secret, Mr. Englishman — when you are travelling through Ireland, just keep your tongue in your cheek, and don't be after sneering at what you see, and it will be all the better for ye!"

Our readers will perhaps have no objection to drop the Englishman leaving him to chew the cud with the last observation.

The vast collection of basaltic pillars, termed the Giants' Causeway, is situated in the vicinity of Ballimoney, County of Antrim, The principal, or grand causeway, (there being several less considerable and scattered fragments of a similar nature) consists of an irregular arrangement of many hundred thousands of columns, formed of a dark rock, nearly as hard as marble. The greater part of them are of a pentagon figure, but so closely compacted together, that though the pillars are perfectly distinct, the very water which falls upon them will scarcely penetrate between. There are some of the pillars which have six, seven, and a few have eight sides; a few also have four, but only one has been found with three. Not one will be found to correspond exactly with the other, having sides and angles of the same dimensions; while at the same time, the sum of the angles of any one of them are found to be equal to four right angles — the sides of one corresponding exactly to those of the others which lie next to it, although otherwise differing completely in size and form. Each pillar is formed of several distinct joints, closely articulated into each other, the convex end of the one closely fitting into the concave of the next—sometimes the concavity, sometimes the convexity being uppermost. This is a very singular circumstance. In the entire Causeway it is computed there are from 30,000 to 40,000 pillars the tallest measuring about thirty-three feet. Among other wonders, there is also the Giant's Well, a spring of pure fresh water forcing its way up between the joints of two of the columns — the Giant's Chair, the Giant's Bagpipes, the Giant's Theatre, and the Giant's Organ, the latter a beautiful colonnade of pillars, 120 feet long — so called from the resemblance it seems to have to the pipes of an organ.

About two miles from the Causeway is Dunluce Castle, one of the finest ruins to be met with in Ireland. For a great many particulars connected with this remarkable place and remarkable coast, we must refer such of our readers as are anxious about it, and have more than a penny in their pocket, to the "Northern Tourist;" a valuable work published by Messrs. Curry and Co. and conclude our sketch with a condensed extract from a visit to the Causeway by the author of "Sketches in the North and South of Ireland."

"It was as fine a morning as ever fell from heaven when we landed at Dunluce, not a cloud in the sky, not a wave on the water; the brown basaltic rock, with the towers of the ancient fortress that capped and covered it; all its grey bastions and pointed gables lay pictured on the incumbent mirror of the ocean: every thing was reposing — every thing was still, and nothing was heard but the flash of our oars, and nothing but the song of Alick M'Mullen, our guide, to break the silence of the sea. We vowed round this peninsular fortress, and then entered the fine cavern that so curiously perforates the rock, and opens its dark arch to admit our boat. He must, indeed, have a mind cased up in all the common-place of dull existence, who would not, while within this cavern and under this fortress, enter into the associations connected with the scene; who could not hold communings with the "genius loci." Fancy, I know, called up for me the war-boats and the foemen, who either issued from, or took shelter in this sea-cave — I imagined, as the tide was growling amidst the far recesses, that I heard the moanings of chained captives, and the huge rocks around must be bales of plunder landed and lodged here: and I took an interest, and supposed myself a sharer in the triumphs of the fortunate, and the helplessness of the captive, while suffering under the misery that bold bad men inflicted in troubled times. Landing in this cavern, we passed up through its land side entrance towards the ruin; the day laid become exceedingly warm, and going forth from the coolness of the cave into the sultry atmosphere, we felt doubly the force of the sun's power: the sea-birds had retreated to their distant rocks — the goats were panting under the shaded ledges of the cliffs — the rooks and choughs, with open beaks and drooping wings, were scattered over the downs, from whose surface the air arose with a quivering undulating motion; we were all glad, for a time, to retire to where, under the shade of the projecting cliff, a clear cold spring offered its refreshing waters."

Passing by some capital legends and anecdotes, connected with Dunluce Castle, but which we may give again, we will take up our author at the Causeway.

"We had now arrived at the promontories of the Causeway. Port Coan, Port na Spania, Pleaskin, and Bengore, all stood out before us, arresting our admiration and attention. I have certainly seen caves much more capacious, and promontories much grander than Pleaskin or Bengore; but beyond a doubt, Pleaskin is the prettiest thing in nature in the way of a promontory; it looks as if it was painted for effect, its general form so beautiful — its storied pillars, tier over tier so architecturally graceful — its curious and varied stratifications supporting the columnar ranges; here the dark brown amorphos basalt, there the red ochre, and below that again the slender but distinct black lines of the wood-coal, and all the ledges of its different stratifications tastefully variegated, by the hand of vegetable nature, with grasses, and ferns, and rock-plants. I certainly could form in my imagination some conception of what the platform, specially called the Giant's Causeway, was; and think a picture or print may convey a very fair representation of what it is; conceive a pavement of pillars set together, just like the comb of a bee-hive, or rather that of a wasp's nest. But nothing I have ever seen, I think, so much exceeded my expectation for very beauty as the promontory of Pleaskin.

"Rowing along towards the Causeway, we noticed, as we slowly sailed along, whin-dykes, and pillars, and massive basalts. The whin-dykes, as geologists call those perpendicular walls that separate the stratifications on either side protrude to form the respective promontories of this line of coast, and, where they meet the sea, present many curious forms — here resembling a battered castle, there a stack of chimneys, and here again the head and hat of a man, with a large hooked nose and wide mouth, the ocherous rock giving him withal a red face, very like the later busts of George the Third. As we passed along, it struck me that the kelp fires greatly added to the interest of the picture — the smoke wreathing up from a hundred places on this stilly day, and in pillared beauty endeavouring to rival the basaltic columns around. We were shown women ascending an almost perpendicular path, towards the top of the cliff, with large loads of kelp on their heads; they looked like mice creeping up the walls of a barn — the toil of the ascent must be enormous. Our guide told of a poor girl who was betrothed to one she loved, and who was likely to make her happy. In order to procure for themselves some little household stuff, and a few conveniences, wherewithal to begin the world, they devoted themselves for a time to avarice, here consecrated by love, so as to be indeed auri SACRA fames. Young William was out at sea in all weathers, and Peggy, though fair and delicate, carried the kelp along that terrible path. One day, just as she had got to the steepest point of the peak, her strength failed her, and down she came, the load to which she was tied hurrying her along — and before she came to the bottom, poor Peggy was a mangled and a lifeless corpse!"

Source: The Dublin Penny Journal, 28th July 1832.

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