Read Antrim - The Giant’s Causeway of Stories and Legends of Travel and History‚ for Children , free online book, by Grace Greenwood, on


The county of Antrim is not only one of the most picturesque, but most prosperous in all Ireland. It is also remarkable for being entirely surrounded by water by the ocean, Lough Neagh, and the rivers Bann and Lagan. In this county vast quantities of flax are raised and manufactured into linen–­chiefly at Belfast, the handsomest and most important commercial town in the north of Ireland.

Belfast is particularly dear to me as a place where I spent many pleasant days, with some warm-hearted Irish friends, whose constant kindness and affectionate care made me feel as though my long voyage across the stormy sea was only a troubled dream, and that I was still at home, surrounded by the dear ones I had loved and clung to always.

In sight of this town is a large hill, which is remarkable for presenting at a particular point of view, a most gigantic likeness to the first Napoleon. Certain swells and ledges of the summit form the great profile very distinctly. He seems to be lying on his back, asleep, or in a meditative mood, and the face has such a dejected, melancholy look that one might suppose the likeness had been taken when the Emperor was a prisoner at St. Helena. There was one of the Bonapartes at Belfast, at the time I was there attending the meeting of the British Association, a celebrated scientific society. This was Lucien, Prince of Canino, a grand-nephew of the Emperor. He recognized the likeness in the great rocky profile, when it was pointed out to him, and professed to be a good deal affected by it, and many people saw a strong family likeness between him and the old hill. This Bonaparte, unlike most princes, is fond of learning and science is what is called a savant but unlike most savants, he is stout and jovial-looking, and extremely fond of children, which is the best thing I can say for him.

Near Belfast is a famous “Druidical circle,” or a large amphitheatre, enclosed by high mounds of earth, where the ancient Druids used to meet for their heathen worship. As we stood in that great circle, beside a rude altar of stones, it made us shudder to think that hundreds of human beings had probably been cruelly sacrificed there as offerings to the gods of the Druids. What a happy, blessed thing it is to know that such dreadful crimes can never again be committed here, under the name of religion.

I should like to tell you about some of the admirable charitable institutions of Belfast in which I became interested and describe some of the beautiful scenery of the neighborhood, but I have so many things and places to speak of in this chapter, that I must not allow myself to linger longer here.

While at Belfast, we made a delightful excursion to Shane’s Castle, the seat of Lord O’Neil.

The O’Neils were for many centuries kings of Ulster, and were a very proud and warlike race. There is a curious tradition of the manner in which they came into possession of their kingdom: “In an ancient expedition for the conquest of Ireland, the leader declared that whoever of his followers should first touch the shore, should possess the territory. One of them, the founder of the O’Neils, seeing that another boat was likely to reach the land before him, seized an axe and with it cut off his left hand, which he flung on shore, and so, was the first to ‘touch’ it.”

Shane’s Castle and the O’Neil estate are situated upon Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Great Britain. There is a legend that this sheet of water covers land that was once cultivated cottages, castles, and even villages. The peasants say that there was once a well in the midst of this country an enchanted well which was always kept covered with a heavy stone, lest its waters should rise and overwhelm the land. One day, a careless woman went to this well to get water to boil her potatoes in, and hearing her baby cry, ran home without waiting to cover the well which presently began to leap up in a great column, like a water-spout of an under-ground sea and poured out so fast and furious, that before many hours the whole valley was overflowed, and that night, the moon smiled to see herself reflected in a new lake.

On our route from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway, we passed through several towns, of little importance now, though of some historical note such as Carrickfergus, Larne, and Glenarm. This last is a beautifully situated town, with a pleasant little bay, which usually affords a safe shelter for shipping on a coast somewhat renowned for wrecks and disasters. Here is a fine castle the seat of the ancient family of the MacDonnels Earls of Antrim.

Scarcely any thing in the world can be grander or more beautiful than the coast road all the way from Glenarm to the Giant’s Causeway. It is altogether too fine to be described it should be painted, not written about.

One of the grandest points in the scenery is the great promontory of Benmore, or Fairhead. From the sea it rises an immense precipice, formed of a multitude of enormous basaltic columns, at the highest point more than five hundred feet above the water.

We reached the Causeway late in the evening so hungry and tired that we were very glad to get our supper and go to bed, without putting our heads out of doors. In the morning early we engaged a guide, and set out on our tour of sight-seeing.

The Causeway is formed by a vast collection of rocky columns mostly as regular in shape as though cut by masonry five-sided, six-sided, seven or eight-sided piled and packed together, varying much in height, but little in size. Some form a floor almost as even as a city pavement some form gradual steps leading down to the sea and some tower upward, like spires and turrets.

There is a very singular collection of these columns on the side of the highest cliff, a hundred and twenty feet in height, called “the Giant’s Organ,” from their resemblance to the pipes of that instrument.

According to tradition, the mighty Giant, Fin Mac Cuál, was musical in his taste, and used to give himself “a little innocent divarsion” here, after his hard labors in building the Causeway. Even now, when the sea roars, and the deep thunder rolls along the rocky coast, they say “the giant is playing on his big stone organ under the cliff.”

Sometimes they say, “Listen to Fin, now! he’s at his avening devotions Heaven help us, an’ him, poor cratur!” and then they cross themselves, for Fin was but a miserable heathen, and can have no part now, they think, in the true church.

By the way, I was told while here, a ludicrous little anecdote of the great Fin, from which it seems that he was not, after all, quite as brave as a giant should be. It is said that when he had finished the Causeway, he went up on a high point and shouted across the channel to the Scotch Giant, Benandonner, to come over and fight him, if he dared. Bold Benandonner accepted the challenge, and began to wade across threatening and bullying his Irish enemy. As he drew near, he seemed to grow so much bigger, that Fin got frightened, and turned and ran into his house, which stood near the cliff.

“What’s the matter, Fin?” said his wife, who saw what a tremble he was in, and how pale he looked.

“Ah, my darling,” said he, “there’s big Benandonner coming over to have a fight and as I’m not very well to-day, I don’t like to meet him.”

Now, Mrs. Mac Cuál was really very much ashamed of her husband for being such a booby; but like the good wife she was, she kept her contempt to herself, just then, and told him to lie down in the cradle, and keep quiet, and she would attend to the Scotch Giant. Fin did as he was bid his wife covered him up in the cradle, and commenced rocking and singing to him. Presently, Benandonner came stamping and storming in, and asked for “that rascal, Fin Mac Cuál.”

“If you’ll please sit down and rock my baby a minute I’ll go and look for him,” said Mrs. Mac Cuál. Benandonner looked down into the cradle, and seeing that enormous giant lying there, with his feet hanging over the foot-board, thought to himself, “if Fin’s baby is so big, what must Fin himself be!” and became so frightened that he turned and hurried back home, much quicker than he came. It is a foolish little tradition, but I have related it as a specimen of the stories which are told to amuse the children of Irish peasants.

There are two caves near the Causeway, which are entered from the sea. Our visits to these were the most interesting and exciting incidents of the day. Though the waves ran high, our skilful boatmen rowed us safely in and though the roar of the sea and the reverberation of some fire-arms discharged by the guides, were rather awful, we certainly enjoyed the sight of those ocean temples, gloomy, rude, and jagged though they were.

From the Causeway we went to Dunluce Castle a grand old ruin, which stands on an insulated rock, a hundred feet above the sea. It is separated from the land by a chasm twenty feet wide, which is crossed by an arch only about eighteen inches broad.

This castle was once the stronghold of a very powerful, proud, and warlike family the Mac Donnels. They had a whole regiment of retainers; they had their bard, an elderly gentleman, with a long white beard, who spent most of his time in singing songs in praise of their glory and great exploits, to the music of a rude harp and they had their Banshee, who occupied a choice apartment in one of the turrets, and doubtless howled as seldom as possible. But all this glory has passed away, and now, the rooks and sea-birds have the famous old castle all to themselves wheel fearlessly about the lofty black precipices, and scream back the shrillest shriek of the storm-winds. Now, no bard, however poor, ever visits that once hospitable hall, to “sing for his supper,” and even the gloomy Banshee has retired from her turret in disgust.

A branch of the Mac Donnels clung to the haunted, dilapidated, old castle as long as possible, to keep up the family credit, I suppose. It was within this century, I think, that a frightful accident happened, which drove the last of them away. In a terrible storm, one winter afternoon, the part of the castle containing the kitchen was blown down, and tumbled over the precipice into the sea, with the family stores of meat and potatoes, and Biddy, the cook, who was preparing dinner, and Teddy, the little scullion, who was turning the spit. The Mac Donnels, for all their pride, were shocked and afflicted by this misfortune, for Biddy was an excellent cook, and Teddy, her son, though careless and lazy, and given to little thefts and large stories, had his good points, as what Irish boy has not. So they, the Mac Donnels, sought out some other home, safer and more comfortable, if not quite so grand in its isolated, ancient gentility, and it may be, took the Banshee with them for their comfort. Trouble, I believe, always goes with people in this world, wherever they move to, in some form or other, it travels with them, and settles down with them, as sorrow, ill-luck, disease, disgrace, discontent, fear, or remorse, and if we may credit Irish traditions, the old nobility and gentry had to endure howling Banshees in addition. No wonder they wasted away under their aristocratic infliction.

In my story, I shall make bold to turn my back on the Causeway, Dunluce Castle, the Mac Donnels, Banshees, and all, return to the beautiful neighborhood of Glenarm, and relate a little incident in the lives of some humble peasant people there.


Some forty or fifty years ago, there lived at Glenarm, near the castle, a poor schoolmaster, named Philip O’Flaherty.

Philip, though a very quiet, well meaning man, was singularly unfortunate in all but one thing he had an excellent wife. Yet she, poor woman, was but “a weakly body,” while, as for Philip, if any sickness whatever was going about, he was sure to catch it. He was a sort of Irish “Murad the Unlucky,” nothing seemed to prosper with him. His potatoe-crop always fell short if he took a fancy to keep a few ducks, or geese, a thieving fox carried them on his pigs ran away, and he had not even “the poor man’s blessing” children, to comfort him. One after another, his babes were borne to the churchyard, and his cabin was left silent and lonely.

Poor Philip, though a schoolmaster, was not very remarkable for learning. In truth, he was a good deal behind the times, and his few scholars, if at all clever, soon got beyond him, and left him. When his wife was well, she did more than her part toward their support, and when she was ill, they fared very poorly, I assure you.

One September night, Philip and his wife sat alone in their cabin, more than usually dejected and sorrowful. They had just buried their last child a baby-boy, only a few months old, but as dear to them as though he had grown to their hearts for years.

There was a terrible storm on the coast that night; the winds almost shook their old cabin to pieces, and torrents of rain were fast quenching the peat fire upon the hearth. Suddenly they were startled by hearing the sound of a gun, above the roaring of the sea. “There’s a ship in distress!” cried Philip “God help the poor creatures, for it’s an awful night to be on the deep!” “Amen!” said Nelly, solemnly.

Soon after they heard the shouts of fishermen and cottagers, hurrying to the shore, and, protecting themselves as well as they could, they joined their neighbors hoping to do some good upon the beach.

They arrived just in time to see the distressed vessel dashed upon a rock, and to witness a still more dreadful sight the falling of a bolt of fire, from the black sky, right on to the ship which in a few moments was enveloped in flames! No boatman, however brave, dared put out through the wild breakers to rescue the passengers and crew and in the morning it was announced along that coast, that an unknown ship had gone down, in storm and fire, with every soul on board! But no one little babe had been taken from the arms of its dead mother, and though apparently lifeless, was restored, by Nelly O’Flaherty, the schoolmaster’s wife, who took it home to her cabin, where it was doing well. There was no mark upon the few fragments of clothing which remained upon the mother and child, when they reached the shore, by which it could be told who or what they were but they both had a delicate look, which made the peasants think that they belonged to “the quality.”

Nelly took the poor foundling at once to her heart clad him in her dead baby’s clothes, and would not hear to his being taken to the almshouse. “God,” she said, “knew what was the best almshouse for the pretty little cherub, when He sent it to cheer the lone cabin of the childless.”

As a matter of course, unlucky Philip took cold from the exposure of that stormy night, and had one of his fevers, which confined him several weeks. The first day that he was able to get out, he walked down to the bay, with his wife, to say good-bye to some friends, who were going to America. After the ship had set sail, they sat for a long time on the shore, watching it sadly and silently. “Ah, Nelly,” said Philip at last, “if it weren’t for my faver and your being burdened with that strange baby, sure we might work and earn enough to take us to America. Faith, that shipwreck was a misfortune to us, entirely!”

“Sure, and it was no such thing,” said Nelly; “what’s a faver more or less to you, avourneen; and has it not given us a beautiful boy, to take the place of our little dead Phil? ’Twas the Lord sent him, and He’ll not let him bring us any trouble.”

“The Lord, why, Nelly, woman, do you suppose He ever busies himself with the likes of us?” said the schoolmaster, bitterly.

“Philip, avick, what do you mean?” exclaimed Nelly, in astonishment.

“I mean,” replied her husband, “that our cabin is so small and poor, and the castle near by so big and grand, that it’s natural Providence should overlook us just, and attend to the affairs of the quality. It’s the way of the world.”

“It may be the way of the world, but it’s no the way with God, Philip. Our cabin is bigger than a sparrow’s nest, afther all, and we even you, miserable sinner, as ye are, ’are of more value than many sparrows.’ ‘The likes of us,’ indade! Have ye ever come yet to sleeping in a stable in Bethlehem, among cows and sheep and asses? Answer me that! Ah, it’s ashamed of you, I am, Philip O’Flaherty.”

The next morning, this poor couple sat down to a breakfast of only half a dozen potatoes and a little salt.

“Philip, dear,” said Nelly, sadly, when they had finished, “these are our last potatoes I have sold all the rest to pay our rent, and the Doctor’s little account, just.”

“Blessed Saints!” exclaimed Philip, “what’ll we do?”

“I’m afraid we must ask charity, till we can get work,” said Nelly.

“No, no! I can’t do that! I will die first!” cried Philip; then laying his face down on the table, he burst into tears and sobbed out “Oh Nelly, darling, I wish I were dead and out of your way! sure I’m no use in the world.”

Nelly clasped the “strange baby” to her heart and murmured “God help us!” Just at that moment, there came a knock at the cabin door she opened it and dropped a respectful curtesy. It was the Earl, and a gentleman in mourning, who as soon as he saw the baby that Nelly held, caught it in his arms and began kissing it, and weeping over it, crying out that he had found his boy! The Earl explained that the stranger was a kinsman of his, a Scotch Laird, whose wife had been lost in the wreck, a few weeks before, while on her way to visit her relatives at the castle, with her child and servants. He said, they had not received the letter announcing her coming so had not thought of looking for friends among the drowned and burned who were washed ashore after the wreck; but they had heard of the child so miraculously saved, and hoped that it might be their kinsman’s son.

When Nelly fully realized that she must lose her adopted child, she fell at the feet of the father, crying with tears and sobs, “Oh, sir, I cannot let him go! I warmed him out of the death-chill at my heart I gave him my own dead darling’s place! It will kill me, just, to part with him!”

“And you shall not part with him, my good woman,” said the Laird “the child must have a nurse he should have none but you. I will take you and your husband with me to Scotland, if you will come!”

So, to make a long story short, the poor schoolmaster and his wife were provided with a comfortable home for the rest of their days, for their kindness to the little shipwrecked boy, who was always dear to them, and always returned their love.

Many others may adopt poor foundlings and care for them tenderly, and yet never have rich lords come to claim their charges and reward them so generously; but the Lord of all will not fail to ask for his “little ones” at last, and to those who do good to “the least of these” He has promised rewards more glorious than the greatest earthly monarch could give and He will keep his word.

Here end my stories and legends of dear old Ireland. I returned from visiting the Causeway, to Belfast, from which place, after a few weeks of rest and quiet social enjoyment, I passed over to Scotland. And now, may I not hope that all the dear young readers who have gone with me thus far, in my wanderings, will wish to bear me company yet further? In another volume, I will describe what I saw, and tell appropriate histories and legends of the rugged, but beautiful land of Wallace and Bruce of Burns and Scott. So, for the present, I will only bid you a short farewell or as the French say, when they part with the hope of meeting again au revoir.