The Giant's Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is also known as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach in Irish[ and tha Giant's Causey in Ulster-Scots.
It is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles (4.8 km) northeast of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a national nature reserve in 1987 by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the Giant's Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (39 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres (92 ft) thick in places..
Much of the Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site is today owned and managed by the National Trust and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. The remainder of the site is owned by the Crown Estate and a number of private landowners.
The discovery of the Giant's Causeway was announced to the wider world in 1693 by the presentation of a paper to the Royal Society from Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, although the discoverer had, in fact, been the Bishop of Derry who had visited the site a year earlier. The site received international attention when Dublin artist Susanna Drury made watercolour paintings of it in 1739; they won Drury the first award presented by the Royal Dublin Society in 1740 and were engraved in 1743. In 1765 an entry on the Causeway appeared in volume 12 of the French Encyclopédie, which was informed by the engravings of Drury's work; the engraving of the "East Prospect" itself appeared in a 1768 volume of plates published for the Encyclopédie. In the caption to the plates French geologist Nicolas Desmarest suggested, for the first time in print, that such structures were volcanic in origin.
The site first became popular with tourists during the nineteenth century, particularly after the opening of the Giant's Causeway Tramway, and only after the National Trust took over its care in the 1960s were some of the vestiges of commercialism removed. Visitors can walk over the basalt columns which are at the edge of the sea, a half-mile walk from the entrance to the site.
The Causeway was without a permanent visitors' centre between 2000 and 2012, as the previous building, built in 1986, burned down in 2000. Public money was set aside to construct a new centre and, following an architectural competition, a proposal was accepted to build a new centre, designed by Dublin architectural practice Heneghan Peng, which was to be set into the ground to reduce impact to the landscape. A privately financed proposal was given preliminary approval in 2007 by the Environment Minister and DUP member Arlene Foster. However, the public money that had been allocated was frozen as a disagreement developed about the relationship between the private developer Seymour Sweeney and the DUP. It was also debated whether a private interest should be permitted to benefit from the site – given its cultural and economic importance and as it is largely owned by the National Trust. Coleraine Borough Council voted against the private plans and in favour of a public development project, and Moyle District Council similarly signalled its displeasure and gave the land on which the previous visitors' centre stood to the National Trust. This gave the Trust control of both the Causeway and surrounding land. Ultimately Mr. Sweeney dropped a legal challenge to the publicly funded plan.
The new visitor centre was officially opened by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in July 2012, with funding having been raised from the National Trust, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Heritage Lottery Fund and public donations. Since opening, the new visitor centre has garnered very mixed reviews from those visiting the Causeway for its pricing, design, contents and placement across the causeway walk descent.
There was some controversy regarding the content of some exhibits in the visitor centre, which refer to the Young Earth Creationist view of the age of the Earth. While these inclusions were welcomed by the chairman of the Northern Irish evangelical group, the Caleb Foundation, the National Trust stated that the inclusions formed only a small part of the exhibition and that the Trust "fully supports the scientific explanation for the creation of the stones 60 million years ago." An online campaign to remove creationist material was launched in 2012, and following this, the Trust carried out a review and concluded that they should be amended to have the scientific explanation on the causeway's origin as their primary emphasis. Creationist explanations are still mentioned, but presented as a traditional belief of some religious communities rather than a competing explanation for the causeway's origins.
Some of the structures in the area, having been subject to several million years of weathering, resemble objects, such as the Organ and Giant's Boot structures. Other features include many reddish, weathered low columns known as Giants Eyes, created by the displacement of basalt boulders; the Shepherd's Steps; the Honeycomb; the Giant's Harp; the Chimney Stacks; the Giant's Gate and the Camel's Hump.
Flora and Fauna:
The area is a haven for seabirds such as fulmar, petrel, cormorant, shag, redshank, guillemot and razorbill, while the weathered rock formations host a number of rare and unusual plants including sea spleenwort, hare's-foot trefoil, vernal squill, sea fescue and frog orchid. A stromatolite colony was reportedly found at the Giants Causeway in October 2011 – an unusual find as stromatolites are more commonly found in warmer waters with higher saline content than that found at the causeway.