Dubliner, the world's first tattooed showman, traveling across America to tell the story of how Pacific Islanders decided ink not eat him

Inked from head to toe, the Dubliner is considered to have been America’s first tattooed showman and kids would pay 25 cents each to listen to his colorful life story.

Born and brought up in Dublin’s inner city, O'Connell left Ireland to pursue adventure and excitement abroad. Allegedly he was shipwrecked on a Pacific island called Pohnpei. It was there that his body was tattooed from head to toe and it changed his life. 

1st full-body tattooed man to display was at Franklin Theater in NYC 166 years ago today. Irish sailor James F. O’Connell by P. T. Barnum.

— Rick Brutti (@Rbrutti) October 21, 2015

During shows he would then  perform the same Irish jig he claimed had so amused islanders that they had decided they wouldn’t eat him but instead marry him to the chief’s youngest daughter.

Still, his acceptance into the culture of the island did not prevent his fleeing in a canoe at the first opportunity and in 1835 he arrived in New York. There he made a fortune telling his story to audiences up and down the eastern seaboard – newspapers reported that he was truly a hideous sight.

James F. O'Connell, the famed Irish tattooed man.

James F. O'Connell, the famed Irish tattooed man.

Sadly he passed away at a young age: only 46. His burial was, at his request, more of an entertaining celebration than a funeral and witness Maria Ward Brown wrote afterwards: “Poor O'Connell thought that the transition from a life of privation and suffering was more appropriately celebrated by music and mirth than grief and lamentation."

Still his legacy lives on to this very day; where once tattoos were a rarity in American society now they are a common sight and commentators believe O’Connell’s shows helped normalize them.

Read more: How Irish Americans embrace the Celtic knot tattoo

H/T: Irish Independent

James F. O'Connell, P.T Barnum's tattooed Irishman stands before a crowd.RTÉ