Back in 1772, Fingal’s Cave was discovered by naturalist Sir Joseph Banks on the Scottish island of Staffa. It’s something out of a fantasy world as it towers 72 feet above the sea and reaches 270 feet deep into the waters, its hexagonal columns of basalt in proud display.
Fingal’s Cave is one of the several sea caverns on the island. As the most popular one, it has been featured in many written and visual works from the 19th century onward. Aside from its astounding beauty courtesy of nature’s power, Fingal’s Cave has some colorful folklores attached to it, too.
One Irish legend refers to the sea cave as “The Cave of Melody” or “Uamh-Binn” in Celtic.
According to the legend, the sea cave was once part of a large bridge across the sea. The bridge was built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail (also known as Finn McCool), who wanted to reach Scotland to fight his rival Benandonner. The same legend refers to the creation of another bridge, known as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, with a similar look. Rumor has it that the two structures formed the two ends of the giant’s bridge.
Interestingly, this story can actually be scientifically supported.
The island of Staffa is a volcanic island with authentic geological features, such as a multitude of caves and basalt columns. These features are typical for the two caves. It is presumed that they were formed from an ancient and massive lava flow that created a bridge between the two spots. The slow cooling of the lava is believed to have created the hexagonal columns which formed the surface of the caves.
Another story, dating back to 250 AD, has enchanted admirers of Fingal’s Cave.
In it, the protagonist is Irish General Finn MacCumhaill, also known as Fingal and the father of Ireland’s traditional troubadour and poet named Oisín. The legend goes that General Fingal had a group of loyal warriors (much like the story of King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table). When the Gaels left Ireland and moved to Scotland, they brought the great stories of Fingal with them. Soon, the general was admired and honored by the Scottish, who, inspired by the heroic verse and songs of Ossian, assigned his name to the sea cavern.
Many artists were inspired by Fingal’s Cave after its discovery in 1772.
One of them was Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, whose “Hebridean Overture [Fingal’s Cave]” was inspired by his encounter with the cave. His composition highlighted the site’s uniqueness. At the time, over 300 people visited Fingal’s Cave every day. Among the notable visitors were John Keats, Joseph Turner, Queen Victoria, and William Wordsworth.
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