Fingal’s Cave: Scotland’s Geological Marvel and Legendary Treasure


Fingal’s Cave, situated on the island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland, stands as a testament to nature’s awe-inspiring wonders. Once inhabited by a few souls, the island now draws tourists from all corners of the world, all thanks to the majestic Fingal Cave. In this article, we will explore the geological marvel of this sea cave, its significance in Irish legends, and the notable figures it has enticed over the centuries. Join us on this journey to uncover the beauty and mysteries of Fingal’s Cave.

The Geological Marvel of Fingal’s Cave

Fingal’s Cave
Fingal’s Cave, Island of Staffa, Scotland by Thomas Moran, 1884-5, High Museum of Art. ( Public Domain )

Fingal Cave stands tall with a height of about 22 meters (72.18 ft.) and delves deep into the earth with a depth of approximately 82 meters (269.03 ft.). It is believed that this extraordinary cave has existed for over 50 million years, sculpted by volcanic activity on the island of Staffa. The formation of Fingal Cave is a result of the flow of lava that gave rise to its three distinct layers.

The cave’s base consists of a layer of tuff, while its top is made up of a layer of basaltic lava with a unique lack of crystalline structure. Sandwiched between these layers are around 40,000 interlocking colonnades of black fine-grained Tertiary basalt. These colonnades create a mesmerizing sight and make Fingal Cave one of the most stunning sea caves in the world.

As the lava in the middle layer cooled, it “contracted towards each of a series of equally spaced centers” and solidified into prismatic columns. These columns generally had between three to eight sides, with six being the most common shape, enhancing the cave’s grandeur.

Fingal’s Cave in Irish Legends

Fingal’s Cave
Basalt columns inside Fingal’s Cave. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Beyond its geological magnificence, Fingal Cave holds a special place in Irish legends. During the 18th century, the Scottish poet James Macpherson wrote about the mythological Irish character named Fingal (Fionn) in his works “Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books” and “The Works of Ossian.” These poems were believed to be inspired by authentic Gaelic ballads, albeit adapted to suit Macpherson’s audience and interests.

Naming the Cave

Fingal’s Cave
Sunset at Giant’s Causeway , Northern Ireland. ( Adobe Stock Aitormmphoto ))

The credit for rediscovering and renaming the cave goes to the British naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks. Originally known as ‘Uamh-Binn’ (Cave of Melody) by the Celts, the cave was renamed by Banks influenced by Macpherson’s poems. Thus, it came to be known as Fingal’s Cave, honoring the Scottish form of Fionn mac Cumhail.

Famous Visitors to Fingal’s Cave

Fingal’s Cave
Fionn mac Cumhaill, illustration by Stephen Reid. ( Public Domain )

Throughout history, Fingal Cave has attracted prominent figures, leaving behind a trail of awe and inspiration. Among the distinguished visitors were royalty like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, renowned writers like Sir Walter Scott and Jules Verne, and celebrated poets like William Wordsworth and John Keats. This remarkable sea cave has also captured the imagination of artists and musicians, compelling them to create masterpieces.

Notably, the German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn visited the island of Staffa in August 1829, and the cave’s enchanting beauty inspired him to compose a concert overture, aptly titled “The Hebrides” or “Fingal Cave.”


Fingal’s Cave remains a symbol of nature’s grandeur and the intersection of geological marvels and legendary tales. Its captivating colonnades and historical significance make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to witness the wonders of the world.

How old is Fingal’s Cave?

Cave is estimated to be over 50 million years old, created by volcanic activity.

Who discovered Fingal’s Cave?

The British naturalist Sir Joseph Banks rediscovered the cave and renamed it after the Scottish legend, Fingal.

Which famous composers were inspired by Fingal’s Cave?

The German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn composed “The Hebrides,” drawing inspiration from his visit to Fingal’s Cave.

What is the height and depth of Fingal’s Cave?

Cave has a height of about 22 meters (72.18 ft.) and a depth of about 82 meters (269.03 ft.).

What makes Fingal’s Cave unique?

The interlocking colonnades of black fine-grained Tertiary basalt make Cave one of the most stunning sea caves in the world.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *