Let me begin by saying that I have a few really dumb tattoos that I've done on myself. I feel that if I tell you all about them you will see that I am quite qualified to write this article. First and foremost, I have the word 'pizza' tattooed on my left ankle, then a question mark on the heel of my left hand, and finally an 'X' on my wrist (which was more of a trial/practice run than anything) among others. I also don’t think tattoos need to have any profound meaning. If it looks cool or if you like it enough for it to be on your body forever, you should get it! It’s your body!
Anyways, disclosure finished, here are some common, basic, and odd Irish-American tattoos.
1. Anything written in Gaelic.
“Erin go Bragh”, “Pog ma thoin”, “Muintir”, “Gra Go Deo” or any other simple Irish phrase.
This lower tummy tattoo means 'rage'. Rage on?
A bit of warning here, if you’re going to get a gaelic phrase tattooed on your body, get the Rosetta Stone first. Unless you speak Irish fluently or enjoy being judged by people from Ireland. These tattoos can get messy. Irish is a very poetic language and there are often many Irish words for one English word that will have slightly different meanings and that can land you in hot water.
The clovers are a nice touch, I guess?
2. A Leprechaun
Dia de los bad tattoos? This looks like a sugar skull for St. Patrick’s day.
Come off it already. It isn’t the late 80’s anymore. No one’s getting butterfly tattoos anymore either. (So if you want a butterfly tattoo now is the time to get it so you can start the second coming of the butterfly tattoo craze!) Getting a leprechaun tattoo is understandable and even kind of cool if you either went to Notre Dame or you are the sole heir/heiress to the Lucky Charms fortune.
Not a leprechaun but still interesting.
3. A Shamrock/Four Leaf Clover tattoo
First, there is a difference. A shamrock is one of the young sprigs of clover or trefoil that you might find in a field. The ones with three leaves that St. Patrick used to teach the concept of the trinity to Ireland. A Four Leaf Clover is, well, comprised of four leaves, and was not used by St. Patrick but is considered by many to make the finder of one lucky.
A lucky four leaf clover tattoo.
Okay, so knowing there is a difference would mean that these are not interchangeable. Now wouldn’t it be even more embarrassing than having a tattoo you can’t pronounce, that if you thought your shamrock is a lucky clover? Before you get one of these put on you just make sure you know exactly what it is that you’re getting!
Is it a radioactive shamrock? Is your navel a fall-out shelter? So many questions.
4. Celtic Cross
The generic Celtic Cross tattoos is a classic. There are many different kinds of shields/knots/crosses and they all have different meanings. This can get confusing but if you do your research you could come away with a far-out tattoo.
5. Anything Irish peeking through torn-up flesh
Why? I have never understood these. What are you proving with that? What drives you to do such a thing? I know it’s the whole ‘look at what’s underneath my pasty exterior’ but unless you are actually a secret agent, have a secret identity or are made of a bunch of Irish flags stacked up on each other you might get giggles from passersby.
Ok, this is the most creative ‘torn flesh’ style tattoo I’ve ever seen, so points for originality. Even still, is the torn flesh part necessary?
As far as ‘safe,’ ‘classic,' or ‘timeless’ tattoos go - the best Irish tattoos I’ve seen are family crests. It will always look cool, it’s always going to be relevant, unless you find out there was a delivery room mix-up later on in your life, and it’s a great to instantly explain your heritage to someone without saying a word! The only Irish tattoo I have isn’t exactly Irish, it’s just a semi-colon on the back of my right arm that I got in when I was in Ireland. There are tattoos of mine that do have meaning and there are some that mean nothing. It doesn’t matter either way as they’re already on my body and I’m still stoked about them some 5 years later. If you have one of these tattoos and you’re happy with it, then don’t worry about what I have to say about it and be proud of your tattoo.
Saturday Night Live's Brooks Wheelan has a different view on tattoos than I do but maybe it is because when I did them I knew they were dumb and this somehow protects me from the future shame? Who knows. His bit is funny regardless!
(h/t Kenneth Munoz)