A Sketch of the Figures of the Columns as they appear on the Top of the Causey

Illustration of basaltic columns of the Giant’s Causeway.

Inscribed in Image

  • Caption outside of boundaries of image – A Sketch of the Figures of the Columns as they appear on the Top of the Causey.

Image Details

Genre Scientific or Technical illustration
Technique Engravings
Subject(s) Nature
Geographical Location
  • Giant's Causeway - Named locality
  • Antrim - County
  • Ulster - Province
Keywords(s) Rock formations
Colour Monochrome
Dimensions 13.2 cm x 15 cm
Published / created 1769

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account Hibernia Curiosa
Contributor(s)
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy opp. p.142
Source copy National Library of Ireland J.9141.BUS/1769
Alternative source

This is a link to a digital copy hosted by an external website.

http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t6pz5gp0z?urlappend=%3Bseq=86
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Rights Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Related text from travel account

And having just made a transition to the north, before we leave the neighbourhood of Derry, our first description shall be of a natural curiosity on the most northern point of Ireland, in the county of Antrim, of which it would be unpardonable in me not to give you the most particular account that I am capable of, as we made it our business twice to visit and examine it while we were in the neighbourhood, at a little town called Bush situated on a river of the same name about [p.49] two miles from it, I mean that most superlatively curious and astonishing work of nature, the Giant’s Causeway; which is perhaps unexceptionably one of the greatest and most singular of natural curiosity in the known world, for it is, indeed, the only exhibition of the kind that was yet ever met with in the known world.
A sketch of the out-lines and general figure of the component parts of the causeway is given in the annexed plates.
The first represents the two bays, &c. between which the causeway runs out to the sea; GG the grand causeway; A the point of the cliff from whence the causeway projects; GH the giant's chair; W the way leading down to the causeway; O the organs; R a rock at the foot of the causeway, visible at low water; P a promontory, cut off at I from the cliff; H a house built by lord Antrim on the strand, and intended for an inn, but never inhabited; B the town of Bush; R a river of the same name; C the road from Bally-castle to Bush, and thence to Derry.
The other plate exhibits a view of the mixture of concavities and convexities on the top of the causeway, as well as the general figure and insertion of the pillars.
The situation in which this most extraordinary phenomenon is discovered, is in the most northern extremity of the island, and [p.50] close by the sea, into which it runs out, for 200 yards, in a direction very nearly north from the foot of a lofty cliff, that projects to an angular point between two small bays, which are about half a mile wide, and about half that distance deep. The situation of the causeway between these two bays or rocky lofty amphitheatres, on either hand, has something peculiarly striking, and adds greatly to the natural curiosity of the causeway itself.
I have sent you a rude sketch of the general form and situation of this really most curious and singular phaenomenon, of which it is impossible to give a just representation by any draught whatsoever, for some of the most curious appearances will escape the pencil. However, I will give you the most perfect idea that I can by a description of the several parts.
The principal or grand causeway, for there are several less considerable and scattered fragments of similar workmanship, consists of a most irregular arrangement of many hundred thousands of columns of a black kind of rock, hard as marble, almost all of them are of a pentagonal figure, but so closely and compactly situated on their sides, though perfectly distinct from top to bottom, that scarce any thing can be introduced between them. The columns are of an unequal height and breadth, some of the highest, visible above the surface of the strand, and at the foot of [p.51] the impending angular precipice, may be about 2 feet, they do not exceed this height, I believe, at least none of the principal arrangement. How deep they are fixed in the strand was never yet discovered. This grand arrangement, I believe, extends nearly 200 yards, visible at low water, how far beyond is uncertain, from its declining appearance, however, at low water, it is probable, it does not extend under water to a distance any thing equal to what is seen above.
The breadth of the principal causeway, which runs out in one continued range of columns, is, in general, from twenty to thirty feet, at one place or two it may be nearly forty for a few yards. I exclude, in this account, the broken and scattered pieces of the same kind of construction, that are detached from the sides of the grand causeway, as they did not appear to me to have ever been contiguous to the principal arrangement, though they have frequently been taken into the width; which has been the cause of such wild and dissimilar representations of this causeway, which different drawings have exhibited.
The highest part of this causeway, is the narrowest at the very foot of the impending cliff, from whence the whole projects, where for four or five yards, it is not above 10 or 15 feet wide. The columns of this narrow part, incline from a perpendicular a little to [p.52] the westward, and form a slope on their tops, by the very unequal height of the columns on the two sides, by which an ascent is made at the foot of the cliff, from the head of one column to the next above, gradatim, to the top of the great causeway, which, at the distance of half a dozen yards from the cliff, obtains a perpendicular position, and lowering in its general height, widens to about 20 or between 20 and 30 feet, and for 100 yards nearly is always above water.
The tops of the Columns for this length being nearly of an equal height, they form a grand and very singular parade, that may be easily walked on, rather inclining to the water's edge. But from high water mark, as it is perpetually washed by the beating surges on every return of the tide, the platform lowers considerably, and becomes more and more uneven, so as not to be walked on, but with the greatest care. At the distance of 150 Yards from the cliff, it turns a little to the east for 20 or 30 yards, and then sinks into the sea. Thus far we have traced the general figure and outlines only of this most singular phaenomenon, I will now point out the circumstances that are particularly curious and extraordinary in this causeway, which are, the figure of the Columns, their Construction, and, close combination with each other; together with the general disposition of the several phaenomena of this [p.53] kind about the place. The figure of these columns is almost unexceptionably pentagonal, or composed of five sides, there are but very few of any other figure introduced; some few there are of three, four, and six sides, but the generality of them are five sided, and the spectator must look very nicely to find any of a different construction: yet what is very extraordinary, and particularly curious, there are not two columns in ten thousand to be found, that either have their sides equal among themselves, or whose figures are alike. Nor is the composition of these columns or pillars less deserving the attention of the curious spectator. They are not of one solid stone in an upright position, but composed of several short lengths, curiously joined, not with flat surfaces, but articulated into each other, like ball and socket, or like the joints in the vertebrae of some of the larger kind of fish, the one end at the joint having a cavity, into which the convex end of the opposite is exactly fitted. This is not visible, but by disjoining the two stones.
The depth of the concavity, or convexity, is generally about three or four inches. And what is still farther remarkable of the joint, the convexity, and the correspondent concavity, is not conformed to the external angular figure of the column, but exactly round, and as large as the size or diameter of the column will admit; and, consequently, as the [p.54] angles of these columns are, in general, extremely unequal, the circular edge of the joint is seldom coincident with more than two or three sides of the pentagonal, and from the edge of the circular part of the joint to the exterior sides and angles they are quite plain.
It is still farther very remarkable, likewise, that the articulations of these joints are frequently inverted; in some the concavity is upwards, in others the reverse. This occasions that variety and mixture of concavities and convexities on the tops of the columns, which is observable throughout the platform of this causeway, yet without any discoverable design or regularity with respect to the number of either.
The length, also, of these particular stones, from joint to joint, is various; in general they are from 18 to 24 inches long, and, for the most part, longer toward the bottom of the columns than nearer the top, and the articulation of the joints something deeper. — The size, or diameter, likewise, of the columns is as different as their length and figure; in general, they are from 15 to 20 inches in diameter.
There are really no traces of uniformity or design discovered throughout the whole combination, except in the form of the joint, which is invariably by an articulation of the convex into the concave of the piece next [p.55] above or below it; nor are there any traces of a finishing in any part, either in height, length, or breadth of this curious causeway.
If there is here and there a smooth top to any of the columns above water, there are others just by, of equal height, that are more or less convex or concave, which shew them to have been joined to pieces that have been washed, or by other means taken off. And undoubtedly those parts that are always above water have, from time to time, been made as even as might be; and the remaining surfaces of the joints must naturally have been worn smoother by the constant friction of weather and walking, than where the sea, at every tide, is beating upon it and continually removing some of the upper stones and exposing fresh joints. ——And, farther, as these columns preserve their diameters, from top to bottom, in all the exterior ones, which have two or three sides exposed to view, the same may, with reason, be inferred of the interior columns, whose tops only are visible.
Yet what is very extraordinary, and equally curious in this phaenomenon, is, that notwithstanding the universal dissimilitude of the columns, both as to their figure and diameter, and though perfectly distinct from top to bottom, yet is the whole arrangement so closely combined at all points, that hardly a knife can be introduced between them [p.56] either on the sides or angles. And it is really a most curious piece of entertainment to examine the close contexture and nice insertion of such an infinite variety of angular figures as are exhibited on the surface of this grand parade. From the infinite dissimilarity of the figure of these columns, this will appear a most surprizing circumstance to the curious spectator, and would incline him to believe it a work of human art, were it not, on the other hand, inconceivable that the wit or invention of man should construct and combine such an infinite number of columns, which should have a general apparent likeness, and yet be so universally dissimilar in their figure as that, from the minutest examination, not two in ten or twenty thousand should be found, whose angles and sides are equal among themselves, or of the one column to those of the other.
That it is the work of nature there can be no doubt to an attentive spectator, who carefully surveys the general form and situation, with the infinitely various figuration of the several parts of this causeway. There are no traces of regularity or design in the out-lines of this curious phaenomenon; which, including the broken and detached pieces of the same kind of workmanship, are extremely scattered and confused, and, whatever they might originally, do not, at present, appear to have any connection with the grand or [p.57] principal causeway, as to any supposeable design or use in its first construction, and as little design can be inferred from the figure or situation of the several constituent parts. The whole exhibition is, indeed, extremely confused, disuniform, and destitute of every appearance of use or design in its original construction. [p.48-57]
A Sketch of the Figures of the Columns as they appear on the Top of the Causey