Your guide to Irish and Celtic tattoos
Irish and Celtic tattoos make for stunning statements about your identity, your heritage or simply your love of the Emerald Isle.
And there are so many designs and symbols to choose from whether you want something elegantly traditional or super touristy.
Here we take a look at what some of the most popular designs are, what they symbolise and why they mean so much to Irish culture.
Getting an Irish flag tattoo shows your patriotic love for Ireland and all things Irish. But did you know the meaning behind what it symbolises?
The green colour represents Irish nationalists – traditionally, but not exclusively of the catholic religion.
The orange stripe represents the unionists, mostly protestant.
While the middle white stripe represents peace between both peoples and faiths – something which has happily been achieved on the island in the last twenty years.
The harp is the official national symbol of Ireland. Before the tricolour it also featured on old Irish flags and is still used today on coins or for ceremonial occasions.
This beautiful instrument represents immortality and freedom. And it’s inspired by a famous Irish King called Brian Boru who also played one.
If you’re thinking of getting a harp tattoo be careful about which direction it faces.
A left facing one symbolises Ireland. But a right facing one symbolises one of its most famous alcoholic drinks – Guinness.
It’s important to note that something Celtic is more than just Irish.
Scotland and Wales and indeed a lot of Western Europe can trace back roots to these ancient peoples.
But Celtic knots are a big part of Irish symbolism and culture. These interlocking loops with no beginning or end symbolise eternity.
They make for beautifully elegant tattoos. And come in the a few different forms:
- Triquetra – also known as a trinity knot features three distinct loops with the points representing the father, son and holy spirit; life, death, rebirth; or past, present and future depending on what you choose to believe in.
- Motherhood knot – this is, not surprisingly, popular with mothers. It shows two hearts interlinked as if one is caressing the other. You can add dots to the knot to illustrate the number of children you have.
- Celtic spiral knot – like the triquetra this knot is three-sided. It’s made up of a trio of spirals that represent the elements of water, earth and fire – sacred to ancient celts.
- Celtic love knot – this knot contains two interlinked hearts that symbolise the union of two people. It’s believed that ancient celts used these knots like we use wedding rings today.
Perhaps one of Ireland’s most iconic ancient symbols, the distinctive Celtic cross is a fusion of pagan and Christian symbolism.
This distinctive take on the traditional cross features a circle linking all the arms and also features Celtic knotwork.
Apart from the crucifixion the circle represents the ancient elements as well as strength, as it’s similar to a Celtic shield.
The three-leaved clover is as Irish as Potato and Guinness Pie.
Another one of Ireland’s symbols it was famously used by St Patrick to convert the Irish to Christianity – as it symbolised the trinity.
The four-leafed clover version is also a popular symbol and it’s considered extremely lucky to find one.
This symbol originating in the docklands area of Galway is most famous as the Claddagh Ring.
This pair of hands holding a heart symbolises a person’s openness to finding love depending on which direction the heart points.
When used on a tattoo – the symbol represents love, friendship and loyalty.
Ogham is an old Celtic alphabet consisting of lines and notches.
You’ll find it on many ancient Irish standing stones.
If you wanted to get a tattoo with a hidden written message, using this alphabet is a cool way to do it.
Tree of life
Another famous symbol is the Celtic tree of life.
This grand old tree feature intertwining branches reaching endlessly into the sky, and roots reaching deep into the ground.
It symbolises the circle of life – connecting heaven and earth. It’s also seen as sign of wisdom and hope for many people worldwide.
The Irish language is beautifully poetic and looks great when scripted with traditional Irish calligraphy.
Popular phrases include Mo Chroí (my heart), Mo Chara (my friend) Mo Chuisle (my darling) Tada Gan Iarracht (nothing without effort) and the cheekier Póg Mo Thoin (Kiss my ass!).
Finally, one of the more kitsch symbols of Ireland is our beloved leprechaun.
This red-headed bearded king of the fairies brings good-luck if you find one.
But be careful if you do because he’s equally likely to trick you! This tattoo is more one for the tourist!
Come in for the craic
So, as you can read, there are lots of amazing ideas and ancient symbolism to incorporate into any Irish tattoo design.
As always, we’d be delighted to talk you through some options.
And we’re pretty sure you’ll be saying ‘Go raibh maith agat go leir!’ after you receive one. That’s the Irish for ‘Thank you so much!’