Belfast Telegraph

Our rocks of the ages: Northern Ireland's five natural gems named in UK and Ireland's top 100 geosites

The Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway
The Marble Arch Caves
Vanishing Lake, Co Antrim
Ramore Head in Portrush
The Ring of Gullion

By Linda Stewart

You might think rocks are pretty boring - but think again. For Northern Ireland is the best place in the world to be a geologist, and there are five good reasons why.

Five places have just been highlighted in the list of the top 100 geosites in the UK and Ireland by the Geological Society of London.

Giant's Causeway, Ramore Head at Portrush, Marble Arch Caves in Co Fermanagh, the Ring of Gullion and Loughareema – also known as the Vanishing Lake – were included in a list of the best rocks and landscapes launched as part of Earth Science Week.

The UK and Ireland are home to some of the world's most diverse and beautiful geology – and Northern Ireland has rocks from 12 of the 13 geological time periods. "For such a small area there is nowhere else in the world where you will see such a diversity of geological history," landscape geologist Dr Kirstin Lemon said.

Giant's Causeway topped the poll in the coastal geosite category, while Marble Arch Caves was included in the educational category and the Ring of Gullion in Co Armagh was placed in the 'fire and ice' category.

Meanwhile, Ramore Head was placed in the category for historical and scientific importance due to the scientific debate that took place there in the 18th century that helped to shape the modern science of geology, and Loughareema in Co Antrim was placed in the landscape category.

"The fact that we have five sites in the top 100 Geosites is a great celebration of our geological heritage," Dr Lemon said. Other geological highlights include north Fermanagh for the oldest rocks in Northern Ireland at just under 900m years old, evidence of how the two parts of Ireland smashed together in the Sperrins.

Marine reptiles that would have existed at the same time as the dinosaurs have been unearthed along the Antrim coast, according to Dr Lemon. "If you go and look at a place called Minnis after heavy rain, you may find bits of vertebrae," she added.

The 100 Great Geosites is an initiative of the Geological Society of London; see www.geolsoc. org.uk/100geosites.

1. The Giant's Causeway

The Causeway Coast World Heritage Site’s geological activity of the Palaeogene period is illustrated by lava flows and interbasaltic beds, allowing for analysis of Palaeogene events in the North Atlantic.

2. The Marble Arch Caves in Co Fermanagh

They are part of an international geopark. It is carved by water from limestone which formed when the area was at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea. More than 60,000 people visit every year.

3. Vanishing Lake, Co Antrim

Loughareema is a mysterious ephemeral lake that fills and empties. It has three streams flowing into it but none out. A sink drains the water into a system to reappear 2.5km away from a large spring.

4. Ramore Head in Portrush

The rocks were at the centre of 18th century debate. Neptunists believed rocks precipitated from sea water whereas Plutonists believed they came from magma. These rocks were marine sediments – so Plutonists were right.

5. The Ring of Gullion

The complex geosite is the world’s most famous ring dyke, having featured in geological debate for 160 years. It has been shaped by glaciation and has a classic ‘crag and tail’ feature.

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