Hellboy oh boy!

As a crystallographer from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, it should come as no surprise that I am much taken by the Giants’ Causeway, an impressive basalt rock formation on the north coast that boasts some of the largest crystals in the world.

Giant's Causeway reflection
Hexaogal crystals in Co. Antrim – each column is about 60 cm across.

Even though London is now my home, I have often visited and made sure that my children have become familiar with the area. When asked his opinion of the Causeway, Samuel Johnson is reputed to have opined, “Worth seeing, yes, but not worth going to see.” But the man was a fool, as far as I can make out. I may be partial but it’s amazing.

Shapes and colours
Care: Slippery when wet.

So I was tickled a deep shade of pink the other night when watching Guillermo del Toro’s fabulous Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Because the plotline sent ‘Red’ and his merry band all the way from Manhattan (well-known orifice of the underworld) to the familiar green coastline of North Antrim, on a quest to find said Golden Army.

Strange visitors to the Giants' Causeway
You can tell it’s Northern Ireland from the look of the sky. (From the IMDB)

Would you believe it, the army was right there, hidden in a monstrous cavern beneath the cliffs. And so ensued the elaborate, violent and inevitable final battle of the film – great stuff! All the more enjoyable because a little bit of movie-magic touched a place near to where I was born.

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19 Responses to Hellboy oh boy!

  1. Richard Wintle says:

    That is incredible – something to add to the ever-expanding “list of places Richard would like to visit sometime”.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Stephen Curry says:

    Should further incentive be required, the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery is close by… I’m surprised Hellboy didn’t manage to find an excuse to visit there when he was over, but I guess he may have been preoccupied.

  3. Henry Gee says:

    I visited the Giants’ Causeway on a field trip during a great little palaeontology conference at Queen’s University when I was a graduate student in the late 80s. That was the conference where I gave my first ever platform presentation. I loved Belfast and Northern Ireland, and how everyone was so friendly and welcoming. Even if the Troubles were still rumbling, none of it ever reached me, except perhaps once, as a graffito. I was using the roll-a-towel dispenser in the geents and beneath the logo
    Advance Towelmaster
    someone had written
    And Be Recognized

  4. Dorothy Clyde says:

    I’m from the same area as Stephen and heartily agree that the Giants Causeway is gorgeous. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never made it to the Distillery, but would also recommend Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the ruins of Dunluce Castle and the beach at White Park Bay – all of which are very close by. A couple of years ago, I took my partner (who’s from Kent) on a holiday to the North Antrim coast – we stayed in a farmhouse B+B near Bushmills. Probably not what most people think of as as exciting holiday destination, but we had a great time and he was very impressed with a lot of the sights that I almost take for granted. And the weather was beautiful!

  5. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for that Henry – I love the story. Maybe Hellboy could take on Towelmaster in the next movie? I’ll email Guillermo. Have you seen Hellboy II? The premise is a tiny bit derivative of a certain book that has a familiar ring…
    You’re absolutely right Dorothy – there is plenty more to see along the Antrim coast (let’s do our bit for the tourist board, eh?). I found the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge a bit on the scary side, but I’ve no head for heights.

  6. Henry Gee says:

    Not seen Hellboy – a colleague has loaned me the DVD but opportunities to watch it at the Maison Des Girrafes are scarce.

  7. Dorothy Clyde says:

    I too am terrified of heights – and water – so also find Carrick-a-Rede really scary! So I’m relieved it’s not just me being a wimp! But I find the wee island on the other side really peaceful – and I’m sure it’s covered in a whole new species of grass not found on the mainland; it’s strangely springy (but maybe that’s me being weird or just my imagination – or both!).
    While in NI Tourist Board mode, everyone should also climb Slemish and visit the village where I grew up (Broughshane) – rebranded the ‘Garden Village of Ulster’ after it’s many victories in Britain in Bloom. It even has a quaint pub with a thatched roof!
    (Stephen, do you think we should be getting some sort of commission for our efforts?)

  8. Stephen Curry says:

    What you need Henry, is a teenage son. Once the girls had gone to bed, my son and I had a working majority.
    Are you not being paid an enormous backhander, Dorothy? Shame. 😉

  9. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Stephen: Basalt columns? Hellboy II? But I thought that Giants Causeway was built by Finn MacCool! Apparently I was misinformed.
    Seriously, though, looks like a fantastic place to visit. I would love the rope bridge too.
    Seen at a departmental holiday party in the UK, on a jar of pickled seasonings:
    Noel’s Capers
    followed by the hand-written
    Coming Soon to Theatres
    The department chair’s name was Noel.

  10. Stephen Curry says:

    I thought that Giants Causeway was built by Finn MacCool!
    That was Giants’ Causeway v1.0.
    As told to me Finn MacCool built teh Causeway as a stepping stones to Scotland to have it out with some Scottish ogre. During the ensuing battle, he scooped out a large clod of earth (forming Lough Neagh) and threw it at his opponent. His aim was not quite up to Hellboy’s standard: he missed. The clod ended up in the Irish Sea and is now better known as the Isle of Man…

  11. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Hopefully Hellboy will lose some of that terrible sunburn hanging around Northern Ireland.

  12. Andreas Forster says:

    I hate to correct Kristi and Stephen. No bloke named Finn built the causeway, though it is correct (and sadly unacknowledged) that the Causeway is a man-made structure. If you look hard when you’re there, you’ll see the builder’s hallmark. A certain John Orr put the thing together.

    As you can clearly see in the image, what looks like columns are actually huge hexagonal bricks expertly stacked on top of one another.

  13. Stephen Curry says:

    You’re right Jenny, there’s normally not much risk of sun-burn in that part of the world. However, those lucky enough to be in possession of genes for red hair/fair skin have been known to suffer, even in NI…
    Andreas, I’ll see your challenge and raise you one:

    Bricks? I think not.

  14. Frank Norman says:

    This makes sense of another news item I saw this morning about genetic links between Irish and Scottish. Those genes must have been running along the Giants Causeway.

  15. Stephen Curry says:

    Those genes must have been running along the Giants Causeway.
    They sure were. We didn’t just fight each other all the time, you know…
    And isn’t wikipedia great? I just read that the Causeway has also featured in The Simpsons!

  16. Linda Lin says:

    Geology rocks!
    nice pics, how do the crystals get so large?

  17. Stephen Curry says:

    Alas, the structures aren’t strictly crystals. The predominantly hexagonal columns form, as far as I understand it, when horizontal stresses set up during slow cooling of lava. This leads to formation of a cellular fracture network. The diameter of the columns depends on the rate of cooling.

  18. Henry Gee says:

    Didn’t Cuchlainn come in to thiss somewhere?

  19. Stephen Curry says:

    CĂșchulainn, aka the “Hound of Ulster“:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CĂșchulainn, was indeed a resident of NI but there is no story that I know linking him to the Giants’ Causeway. Like Finn McCool, he was certainly a fierce warrior but directed most of his attention to local battles, single-handedly defending the province against Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connaght.
    All this talk is stirring up other cultural references in my mind. Have you ever read Flann O’Brien’s great comic novel, At Swim Two Birds (in which McCool features briefly), or listened to Horslips? This track (Dearg Doom) is from The Tain, a concept album that recounts the story of Medb’s famous cattle raid. It was in my collection long before I’d ever heard of U2… Their live album is one of my all time favourites.

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