Northern Ireland: In the Footsteps of Finn McCool

Growing up with the surname of MCCOOL has advantages. It is my go-to ice breaker, I suppose. Yes, McCool really is my last name.

Then there is the Finn McCool connection. Finn McCool is a mythical giant of folklore, based, I would hope, on a real McCool ancestor of mine.

About 20 years ago, I started researching my family history. It was quick work for some family lines, like my paternal grandmother (BUFFINGTON). On the other hand, after two decades, my two maternal great-grandfathers (ELS and SCHULER) remain brick walls.

My McCool ancestral line took many years to determine but, with assistance from DNA, we traced my direct line to an individual who lived in Northern Ireland around 1705. He, Archibald McCool, was probably the brother of the owner of the McCool homestead (below), John McCool.

Also unproven is a connection to Finn McCool but, come on, of course Finn McCool (his Old Irish name is Fionn mac Cumhaill) is my heritage. Right?

Anyway, with St. Patrick’s Day nearly here, I have been thinking about our 2007 family trip to Northern Ireland.

My Visit to Finn McCool Land

After arriving at Dublin airport, we loaded into a rental car and drove a couple of hours north to Castledawson. There we synched up with a researcher I “met” online (and probable distant cousin), Tommy McCoole, who guided us to the McCool homestead in Toberhead, County Londonderry.

The McCool homestead dates to 1670, when it was a one story structure. It is situated on a hill overlooking the Moyola River.

McCool Homestead, Toberhead, Northern Ireland
McCool Homestead, Toberhead, Northern Ireland

To get to the house, take A6 (Glenshane Road) west from Castledawson and turn right onto, yes it is true, McCooles Road. Brilliant!

McCooles Road, Toberhead, Northern Ireland
McCooles Road, Toberhead, Northern Ireland

Moyola River feeds into Lough Neagh, which legend says was created when Finn McCool scooped land and threw it at his rival giant in Scotland. The land formed Isle of Man while the crater eventually filled with water and became Northern Ireland’s largest lake.

Our hotel for the next two nights was the luxurious The Bushmills Inn. We stayed in a family room; with a loft for the kids and a king bed for the adults.

Bushmills Inn, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Bushmills Inn, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Two superb attractions in Bushmills are Finn MacCool’s tavern and the Old Bushmills Distillery.

Finn MacCools tavern, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Finn MacCools tavern, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Finn MacCools tavern, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Finn MacCools tavern, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Bushmills is a historic village conveniently located near Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway, and the magnificent north coast. Dunluce Castle is House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones (and probable Chronicles of Narnia inspiration) and Giant’s Causeway is, well, Finn McCool’s masterpiece.

Dunluce Castle, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Dunluce Castle, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
hiding amongst the columns of Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Legend says that this rock formation is the boot of Finn McCool. Seems reasonable to me.

Finn McCool's boot, Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Finn McCool’s boot, Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

While busloads of visitors are dropped off to visit the basalt column area, relatively few people take time (or are permitted time) to hike the surrounding land. The views are spectacular.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giants Causeway overlook, Northern Ireland
overlook at Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giants Causeway overlook, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway overlook, Northern Ireland

We saw and did more in Northern Ireland and I will cover that in my next post.

Do you think the lives of Finn McCool and St. Patrick intersected? St. Patrick lived in Ireland in the 5th Century while Finn McCool lived in Northern Ireland in the 3rd Century.

While St. Patrick’s Day is obviously a huge event all around the world, I am happy when I see a Finn McCool restaurant or pub. It is nice that the proprietor chooses to recognize the longest running Irish  legend.

Have you ever been to a Finn McCools? Where?

See also Ireland Luxury Lodging: Where to Stay in Ireland.

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3 thoughts on “Northern Ireland: In the Footsteps of Finn McCool”

  1. I only flitted in and out of Bushmills so missed the pub. So cool that you have a road near after you. That said I’m a Quinn. We have a town named after us in Clare. 😉 unfortunately no giants in my ancestry though.

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