‘They Felt Like A Promise To Myself’: 4 Irish Women Share The Stories Behind Their Tattoos

Megan Roantree chats to four tattooed ladies about their gorgeous ink.

Sarah Maria Griffin, writer, 30

“I have four tattoos, all full colour, all quite large, including musical instruments inspired by video games and peach blossoms. I got my feet tattooed when I was 19. Partially, because I’d never really ‘rebelled’ as a teenager and was about to turn 20 – and partially, because I’d decided I wanted to start walking towards becoming a writer, and they felt like a promise to myself. They’re images from Legend Of Zelda which I played almost constantly as a little kid: playing that game was the first time I’d felt like I was truly accessing a different world, and made me want to build different worlds of my own. I paid for the tattoos in little bags of 20c coins from my bar job: they’re eleven years old now, and I still love them.

They all have a kind of power of their own, but I’m particularly fond of the peach. It was hand-poked, which gives it a lovely watercolour effect, and I got it for a sort of two reasons. One, because an author I admire a great deal, Shirley Jackson, is well-known for replying to a critic with a note simply saying, ‘If you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree,’ and I think those are powerful words to live by. Also, it’s kind of for my husband: peaches and nectarines are my favourite fruits, and it’s always nice to have a reminder of sweetness in the world.

I think people are shocked about my ink, possibly because they’re quite often hidden. When I interviewed for my current residency it was during the heatwave, and I wore my arms bare – a part of me did wonder if my tattoos would make the panel consider me differently, but thankfully they cared more about what I had to say than how I look, which is something you’d hope for all interview processes, though isn’t always the case!”

Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, filmmaker, 31

“I have the lucky number of 13 tattoos – none have colour and most of them are quite minimal, from David Bowie to Japanese inspired pieces. My first was in June 2010 and it was a part of dealing with trauma for me. I was 22, had just left college and a long-term abusive relationship. The whole experience of suddenly trying to make your way in the world alone was quite overwhelming, but I felt the need to make the change for the better. I got a swallow on my left shoulder. It was a nice small dip of a toe in the ocean but it felt necessary. I knew when I got it that it would remind me of how far I had come and that no matter how hard things could get again, they can always change just as fast.

The next few were all motivated by something relatively deep – the death of an idol, the start of a new relationship, the end of another one – but very quickly I was just getting them because I liked them. They went from ‘I want a tattoo to signify deep cosmic change in life’ to ‘I like sushi so can I have a sushi tattoo, please?’

I don’t feel like people really have that level of shock towards tattoos anymore. You notice it when you are in a conservative country, institution or restaurant. You can feel the side- eye. But generally, you don’t expect people to really give it a second’s thought. It feels like everyone has them, so you don’t notice that degree of shock.

I guess I’m lucky enough to work in a creative industry that doesn’t pass judgment over these things. You get the odd snide remark from people trying to be funny but it’s all pretty harmless. The only negative experience I had with them was a Tinder match that immediately asked if I had tattoos then declined, stating he liked his women ‘unspoilt’. Now… do you think I lost any sleep over that guy?”

Dr Kim Connick, postdoctoral researcher, 28

“I have nine tattoos, including writing on my ribs and a geometric design on the back of my neck. I got my first, the star on my right wrist, at 16. I always wanted to get a tattoo as a kid, as I was fascinated by my dad’s. Now I think 16 is far too young, but I’m happy I have it and that I learned that lesson. The tiger’s head was inspired by one of my dad’s and I got it after he passed away. It was a reminder he was always with me.

My latest one, the Poolbeg chimneys, I got just after finishing my PhD. The chimneys were always a feature of my life, I spent my summers as a child on Dollymount with my dad, and I could even see them from my lab in DCU whilst doing my PhD, they became a place I visited when everything else got too stressful. They’re what I think of when I think of home and the next few years it’s possible that I’ll have to leave Dublin for work, so I want to carry my home everywhere.

People are always shocked when they see my tattoos, especially the big ones as they’re quite hidden. I was a nerd growing up, I did a degree in Analytical Science in DCU, then my PhD in Immunology, a soft-spoken, short girl from Ballymun. I don’t think some people realise tattoos are for anyone. I’ve had several people convinced they were fake!

I get ‘Why would you do that to yourself?’ and even ‘You’ll never get a husband!’ which I always laugh at. I’ve never had a negative reaction in work, I work in DCU which is a very open-minded workplace. Seeing colleagues with blue hair, tattoo sleeves, piercings to beat the band wouldn’t be too unusual. I think maybe our close interactions with students help us keep an open mind and DCU’s overall inclusive ethos means everyone’s welcome!”

Jenni Murphy, fitness professional, 36

“I have 12 tattoos in total – they range from tiny little ones like a semi colon to two big pieces on my forearm and on my back. Every one of my tattoos has a special meaning to me. I have two Thai hand-designed personal ones, I also have an arrow along the outside of my wrist for protection and I love the meaning behind it – an arrow in a bow has to go backwards to go forwards.

My first tattoo was on my ankle. I got it on my first trip to Thailand, I had always wanted one but I wanted one with a memory attached to it and I fell in love with Thailand. The guy who did it was so lovely and told me he had lost all his bandmates in the tsunami. He lost everything but his tattoo shop. He believed that everyone’s tattoo should be original so he hand sketched the design and then he burned the design so no one could copy it unless I wanted them to. I love it, but an ankle tattoo on the bone is HORRIFIC.

My portrait on my arm is the one that means the most to me. She is a representative of my good energy. I’ve wanted her for years but it never felt like the right time. I had to work through a lot of stuff over the last few years, and was in quite a dark place but I fought back thanks to the amazing people and energies in my life so I wanted her to be a representative of them and me.

I wanted to represent the people who are my good energies – she has a moon and feather for my two friends Linda and Rachel, an infinity sign for my constant ray of light and support Claire, and four flowers in her crown for my sister and my mum. I am so lucky that I have these beautiful souls in my life so any time I doubt myself or feel a little low she’s a constant reminder that I’ve got this and I am enough.

Sometimes I think people are quite shocked about my tattoos, but more that I have so many. I knew getting my forearm piece would mean going from having casual tattoos to the next level. I think because of my job though, I can express my individuality as much as I like. No one has ever said anything judgemental to my face. I know when I was single that some guys preferred ‘unspoilt’ girls, whatever that means.

But to be honest I don’t hear negativity or have any time for it, as a girl who has been a bodybuilder, who trains and has a lot of muscle mass, and can lift as heavy as the boys, I’m pretty used to not looking like anyone else. I’ve had trolls online and comments made in the street about how girls shouldn’t look like that, but I am proud of my body and that’s a reflection on them and their insecurities, not on me. I like being different.”

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