The Giant's Causeway DVD

Q. Did you hear the one about Finn MacCool's mother-in-law? 

A. She was Hetti La Tavish, a minor princess of the Orkneys and like all mothers-in-law eager to criticise her big eejit of a son.

At least that’s the story according to writer and illustrator Stephen Hall who has launched an animated DVD which retells the Finn MacCool legend with a modern twist.

The Giant’s Causeway
is an impressive work, which has taken more than four years to complete. The DVD boasts over 500 pages, plus an 18 minute animation which can be watched in English or Irish. Individual translation sections can be viewed as interactive books in Ulster Scots, Scots Gaelic and Scots.

‘The story is about the building of a bridge between Ireland and Scotland,’ said Hall. ‘Today it is not visible but what lies beneath the surface of the water is still there. Our deep cultural and linguistic links waiting to be re-discovered.’

Born in Belfast in 1957, Hall grew up immersed in Irish culture, enjoying stories of Fomorian giants, the fantastical land of Tir na nÓg, and the tale of how Northern Ireland’s favourite giant created the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.

In childhood, Hall was an avid reader of books and comics. Since graduating from art college, he has worked in advertising, design and teaching. His classroom experience and ability to interact with children is evident in this production.

Children will watch The Giant’s Causeway again and again. New additions to the story bring a modern playful flavour while keeping traditional aspects. I was unsure how Hall’s new characters, like Hetti La Tavish and Heesha Yousebabble, a Scandinavian giant, would fit in with the MacCools, but the ‘new legends’ of bullying and interfering in-laws are effective. As Hall says himself: ‘Even the old stories were new once.’

Background information on Finn MacCool is particularly interesting and explores the swirl of myth and legend that surrounds him. Hall also refers to other Irish legends, as well as Welsh, Viking and Native American cultures. This broad cultural inclusion is also seen in the range of languages used to say ‘Very Big!’ in the main animation, from Dutch to Japanese.

Adults can enjoy the story too. Hall’s gentle humour is perfect for those who are still young at heart, and his jokes about the weather will have universal appeal. The DVD is highly original with stunning artwork. The vibrant colours and dramatic animation are reminiscent of Japanese anime cartoons. The standard of translation is excellent and as an Irish speaker, I was intrigued to hear the Scots, Ulster Scots and Scots Gaelic sections. The range of languages includes all aspects of our Northern Irish heritage.

The Art Gallery section displays the best of Hall’s other work. Children will learn from maps of Ireland and enjoy colouring in pictures from the animation, which can be downloaded from the Earth Native Art website, which produced the DVD.

However, the best feature of The Giant’s Causeway is Hall’s unpatronising attitude to his viewers. Most adults could not answer his interactive questions, and the overall content is very informative.

The DVD (£13.99) and original book (£6), published in 1996, can be purchased at the Giant’s Causeway, the Linen Hall Library, the Welcome Centre, Belfast, and Craft Connections, Ballycastle.

By Aoife Rafferty