Some things you might need to know
I've heard it said on more than a few occasions, "What could be more Irish than St. Paddy's day?". Well, quite a few things actually, but that's another blog altogether.
I won't cover all the possibilities and common themes here, but we'll get you started. I hope you find it a fun read.
Saint Patrick was/is a fascinating character of history, myth and legend and I encourage you to look further into his significance in Irish culture. Look here for an easy primer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick
Celtic knots and Celtic Crosses
Truth be told, the divisions between these styles is pretty hard to determine these days, so do your research carefully.
The internet is really flooded with bastardized versions of these motifs, and there are some hideously "incorrect" images that come up on a Google search for "celtic knot".
Go to the bookstore. Support smart stuff.
The Claddagh / Claddagh ring
Claddagh rings are often used as friendship rings, but are most commonly used as engagement/wedding rings. In Ireland, America and other places, the Claddagh is handed down mother-to-daughter or grandmother-to-granddaughter. The way a Claddagh ring was worn on the hand was usually intended to convey the wearer's relationship status, according to Irish author Colin Murphy:
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is single and may be looking for love. (This is most commonly the case when a young woman has first received the ring from a relative, unless she is already engaged).
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is in a relationship (suggesting their heart has been "captured").
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is engaged.
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is married.
The Shamrock vs. the 4 leaf clover
Now, in a broader sense, it is one of the enduring symbols of Ireland, and while it still holds that religious significance, it is also now a general badge of things Irish.
However, the 4 leaf clover is a symbol of luck, and has nothing to do with Ireland or Irish identity. And no, I don't care if you found a green marshmallow version in your childhood bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, it's not Irish. Never.
The Harp of the Bards , the Cláirseach
The harp was the instrument of the Bards. In ancient Ireland these were a class of of intellectual artists, poets, musicians and lecturers. As Ireland's culture was sustained by an oral, not written tradition, the Bards acted as a very essential repository of the cultural knowledge of the Gaels.
The harp is the symbol of the office of the Irish president. It is found all throughout Irish culture and is next to sacred.
If you intend to make an Irish tattoo with a harp, make sure you don't Google up a version that includes a crown above the harp. These are most usually badges or symbols from regiments of the English armed forces that used to enlist Irish men when Ireland was under British rule. Showing one of those off in an Irish pub will most likely get you bounced.
Bloody Feckin Leprechauns
Sadly, most of the creepy, boozy, thuggish leprechaun tattoos wandering around the world are on the bodies of people of Irish descent.
These are typically fiendish, drunken, violent little characters that have nothing in common with the mythological leprechaun of Irish folklore.
The little people, or faeries, have no relation to Tinkerbelle or the magically delicious cap wearing gold hoarders of 20th century American entertainment and advertising. Watch the videos below for a hint about the real deal.
These tattoos do nothing but display and reinforce ugly stereotypes of the Irish as drunken, violent brutes, thieves and ruffians.
These designs might be cool in some circles, in maybe Boston....but just don't okay? They are really no different than getting tattooed with an image of Little Black Sambo eating watermelon.
The Irish Tri-colour Flag.
The green is emblematic of the Roman Catholic communities of the island, while the orange represents the Protestants. The central band of white is meant to represent peace and unity.
I have no interest into delving into the history of that partition, but just know that this is not everybody's idea of a non-sectarian, symbol of heritage. If you're not sure of it's history and meaning, don't get it tattooed on you. I have seen a Canadian fellow, whose grandparents came from a Protestant, Unionist background in the heart of East Belfast, proudly sporting this as a badge of his heritage, (as the grandparents came frum Ireland eh?). His Granny would've shit bricks.
And while we're on the subject....
I just want to tell the previously unaware, that if you are looking around on Google for ideas for your Irish tattoos, and you come across a picture like the one on the left (which is nicely done IMHO), yes it comes from Northern Ireland.......that if you are unaware of its meanings, it is not the tattoo for you, and will not go over very well down at Kelly's pub.
If you come from Loyalist stock.....well you won't likely be reading this article. (But peace to you anyways.)