Historically, Ireland is a combination of ancient Celtic and Gaelic traditions along with Catholicism. Oppression, victory and a fighting spirit along with medieval castles and elements of the spectacular landscape all serve as themes or backgrounds for Irish tattoos.
The Kelly green, white and orange-striped flag of the country is commonly used to depict Irish ancestry. As a symbol, the flag represents unity. The colors represent the Irish Gaels, William of Orange and peace. Irish flags are often combined with a three or four-leafed shamrock, that stands for luck and prosperity.
Shamrocks are also associated with St. Patrick, the Holy Trinity and Catholicism. The patron saint was responsible for spreading Christianity among the pagan people. Some tattoos revolve around the symmetrical Cross of Saint Patrick. Complex Celtic crosses feature intricately woven patterns that are created in black work or multiple color images. Irish crosses might also incorporate a series of Celtic knots, dragons or serpents and weaponry.
When desiring to commemorate a loved one, the Claddagh tattoo remains one of the most popular. The image consists of two hands holding a heart topped with a royal crown. Many variations of the design are possible as well as the techniques used to create the image. Leprechauns have long been associated with Irish folklore and are depicted as being everything from whimsical to evil. Dramatic displays might involve black work or full-colored caricatures or life-like portraits.
This is a nicely explored landscape piece etched in black and gray that has been extended from the original castle and Celtic cross. The new chest addition shows off a coastal inlet and does a solid job of incorporating rocky outcrops and the frothing white caps of the ocean.
A fantastic new wave interpretation of the Irish Flag tattoo. It utilizes the popular ripple effect that symbolizes resiliency and strength. The simple cursive Harding overlaying the colored flag is a well applied, understated touch, and the use of white ink through the middle section adds a further realist aspect.
This Irish tattoo is a simply expressed black ink Celtic Knot. The Celtic Knot symbolizes interconnection and eternity by using one continuous line. It’s also used in the context of Christianity to link with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A cool representation of Ireland here with the priest in traditional Church garb cradling Guinness, the popular black beer. The artist has effectively used black line technique to create the piece then added small traces of shading in his beard to fill out the image.
This is a glorious Celtic cross tattoo created with painstaking attention to detail and masterful technique. The piece looks like it could hang in the reliquary of a Catholic Church. The black ink here is etched with flawless precision – drawn darkly but clever use of negative space keeps the shadow from being heavy and overwrought. The artist has also used brilliant dotwork – one of the most difficult, intense tattooing techniques – to fill inside the image and create beautifully unique contrast shading in the central cross.
Fantastic black line has been used to create this inside out style tattoo. There’s no need for shading, the piece is realized by using flowing black lines in conjunction with complex patterns and negative space to create an arresting Irish tattoo. What’s interesting is this tattoo can stand alone in this style as a complete work or be filled with black and gray shading or solid color to develop an entirely different looking piece.
This a very cool Celtic circle. Here, the black ink is the contrasting filler for the knotwork that incorporates it’s twist by combining with negative space to build detail. It’s and effectively delivered tattoo.
This is an amazing feature back piece. The tattooist has reached deep into their technical kit bag to transform the massive blank canvas with a fully realized Celtic cross and Claddagh. This Irish tattoo has it all; crisp black linework, a wide array of intense shading technique veering from fuzzy black through tight black and gray shadow then pencil fine, the ability to implement negative space as an image filler, and an overall concept delivered with clarity and precision. The hands, heart, and sleeve of the Claddagh are standout focal points of this outstanding work.
Another classic Celtic Cross and Claddagh combination tattoo. This one incorporates the traditional green and orange colors into the artwork instead of the usual black and gray.
If you weren’t aware of the Claddagh you’d miss it within this brilliantly executed chest tattoo. The heart of the Claddagh is used as an external border filled with the ship image and shading, with traditional crown atop it. The hands clasping the heart are beautifully rendered, the artist shading each hand with the exact amount of detail to make them realistic. The image then deviates from convention by incorporating too detail laden, realist falcons and a pair of rose flowers etched admirably in pencil gray.
The type of Irish tattoo image you see brandished about on biceps and shoulder blade during St Patrick’s Day every year, washed down with a pint or twenty of Guiness. This nifty small tattoo combines rich green coloring with a shamrock, Claddagh, and Irish flag. You can’t get much more Irish than that.
A nicely executed Irish Castle – it looks to be Blarney Castle – in black and gray. The shading of this piece is done in a way to accentuate the different scale elements of the tower, parapet and battlements.
A beautifully realized Celtic Harp tattoo. The green highlight and bronzing of the frame’s color help add an element of individuality to this Irish tattoo. The artist’s pinpoint creation of the harp strings add an elegant degree of realism to the entire work.
This is a symbolic Irish tattoo focusing on a member of the McDonagh family, and his clan’s importance to the fabric of his personality.
This is a neat black and gray small tattoo of a harp supported by shadowed shamrocks. The artist has effectively etched in a very small green highlight just above the strings to make sure those viewing get the full Irish tattoo effect.
Wow. This Irish tattoo is a clash between realism and abstract influences to create a new wave Claddagh. The artist has opted to tattoo in a heart more likely to be found in an anatomical textbook rather than the regular heart shape used for tattoos of this kind. It’s a very bold statement. The crown is incorporated with an almost Japanese flair that is balanced beautifully by the elegant hands grasping the heart.
This small tattoo of a shamrock is applied with great skill. The artist cleverly uses negative space inside the knots rather than just combining solid black and green throughout. It gives the artwork a nice sense of balance.
This Irish tattoo represents freedom combined with rebirth and regeneration. The artist skilfully applies fuzzy black shading with a wider gauge needle around the outside of the image. This effect gives extra oomph to the Irish flag colors deployed inside the phoenix.
An ambitious Irish heritage piece that riffs on the high-profile American college Notre Dame and its’ mascot the Fighting Irish. The entire piece is interesting and complex – love the richly detailed image of the Irish pugilist backed by simple gray shading – however the text representing Fighting needs an update or other element added to give it more clarity. Darkening the shadow points of the word to more yellow/orange contrast, or also touching the word up with thicker black line flourishes in place of the muted white highlights could help it be interpreted more clearly.
This small tattoo uses a little bit of abstract influence in adding funky green color to the geometric black focal point of the image.
This is a beautifully realized Irish sleeve tattoo that has been built over time. The thick, heavily detailed Celtic Cross was the original piece inked on to the upper bicep. It has aged well into that gray stone look. Rather than continue with that style, the new artist continued the Irish tattoo theme by using other traditional images in new wave style. Both the mid arm harp, and the lower down Claddagh are drawn in skilfully. The use of the green shadow and negative space links the theme together in an eye pleasing manner. The green shading is unique, and it’s odd enough to draw the images together without taking away from the entire message.
A killer Claddagh Irish chest tattoo. Enjoyable contrast of the realist style crown and heart with the macabre skeletal fingers poking into the organ and cruelly extracting blood. While the piece is not for everyone it doesn’t lack for flair and creativity.
Enjoyable twist on a Gaelic shamrock, the design splits elements of bio-mechanical tattoo with traditional sketching in black and gray. The artist has used solid technique to frame the shamrock as if it’s been chiselled away from the skin to show the stony message beneath.
This is a lovely half sleeve. The Gaelic lettering is displayed with great, flowing skill and enhanced at various points by differentiating the font with negative space and framing. Meanwhile, the beautifully illustrated clover is almost delicate, etched in with concise green coloring aided by the combination of white/black ink highlights.
This ripped skin Irish tattoo is skillfully drawn, but would have been aided by more space being devoted to the flag image underneath – the piece looks a little thin to have that so much of the space ripped. The details are delivered with great attention to detail, particularly the black and gray rips cut through with fuzzy black support shading along the image edges.
Wow. This is an awesome new wave take on shamrock. The clover forms an interesting border for the perfectly deployed emerald ink skull to shimmer through, and the artist has conveyed enough difference between the green shades to create a disquieting Irish tattoo.
This is an excellent cover up piece where a solid green shamrock has been inked to replace the image underneath, with small orange background highlights helping fill out the change. Another thing worth noting is the white inked semi colon – this symbol is a popular identifier for those who have had issues with suicidal thoughts or broader mental health issues.
An interesting take on the Celtic Cross as it moves from symbol into working blade. It’s a unique method of delivering a traditional Irish tattoo. The artist has great touch, the shade work has a real grey/green feel reminiscent of early iron work and fits well with the subject. It’s a skilful piece of body art topped off by nice supporting shamrocks.
A brilliant tattoo that incorporates a minimalist aesthetic with negative space and dotwork principles. The black line work is a precise, sharp, overlaying image with dots employed to give scale and overall balance. The negative space is used cleverly by becoming the body of the Emerald Isle, and supported by intense black shading to give it extra border detail.
This castle tattoo provides an interesting shading technique. Fat needle work and agitation have been well used by the artist to mark the subject’s skin uniquely, it’s not unlike the look and feel of rough cut stone. The overall piece, and stone markers next to the castle could benefit from being filled out with other shading, such as sky, rain or ground elements to give it a more fully realized look.
An excellent black and gray falcon tattoo that looks to incorporate previous Celtic elements into the new work. The bird has been etched in a way to make it look like it holding the Celtic Knot. It’s a nicely balanced chest tattoo with solidity in shading throughout.
This new wave riff on American Traditional tattoo has an Irish focus through the twin flags flanking the Eagle.
This daring Gaelic script is delightfully drawn down the course of the subject’s. The artist has shown good technical understanding of how to size and space the lettering, then filled with sharp, concise, flat black black ink. Its a bold piece of artwork made to look simple.
Twin half sleeve Celtic knots. This is a technically painstaking piece that would’ve been difficult to produce. The tattooist needed to keep sharp to keep up with the flow of gray black shading and not let the various twists and turns of the knots get the image out of whack. The finished piece is exceptional.
Beards are the best. Love this abstract take on portraiture method to create a not so larger than life leprechaun. The piece has been etched in a way to almost jump off the skin and tempt you with a pot of gold. The black line detailing in the beard – and that beautifully Irish orange hair – give the picture a bright cast, well balanced by the emerald eyes mirroring the green of the leprechaun’s top hat. The cob pipe, replete with crisp black line is an excellent added touch. You’d struggle to find a more Irish tattoo!
Another great example of the skull inside of the shamrock. The artist has done a fantastic job giving the bone a realistic color and cast, while the dark shade of the shamrock just avoids being too overwhelming. For suc a small tattoo it does an epic job of making you want to keep gazing at it.
The artist for this minimalist text piece has delivered a masterclass. This Gaelic lettering has been drawn up in the perfect font for its size and placement then etched into the skin with perfect clarity by a single needle. You have to appreciate the crisp delivery of each black line onto the subject’s pale skin.
A big fiery Irish tattoo. It’s enjoyable that the artist has given the backing a stone style with cracks and black/gray shading, then busted out more black and gray shading of a different gray, bracketed by thick black outlines to overlay it, with the massive shamrock image added to fill out the half sleeve’s spacing.
What are some Irish symbols?
There are numerous popular Celtic and Irish tattoo symbols. Many are linked with history, the Celtic tradition, good luck or Christianity. Some of the most frequently found examples of Irish tattoo work include:
- The Celtic Cross
- The Celtic Knot
- The Tree of Life
- The Claddagh
- Celtic armbands
- The shamrock
- The Irish flag
- The Celtic Harp
- Leprechaun tattoos
Did the ancient Irish have tattoos?
Irish history is a mix of Celtic and Gaelic traditions. The Celts have a long and fascinating tattoo history – dating back to before the Roman occupation of the British Isles.
The Celts were often tattooed in rites of passage or to commemorate battle and to acknowledge great deeds. Tattooing was a regulated part of traditional Celtic society, with the practice restricted to certain people and families.
The Celts also had a fondness for fighting naked, tattooed and painted only in the dye of the woad plant. Julius Caesar himself wrote in correspondence about the fearsome fighters clothed only in blue paint.
At that time (around 100AD) European tattoo was culture was either a part of the Barbarian cultures – Picts, Celts, Scythians and Thracians – or confined to those captured and kept in battle by the Greeks and Romans from battle as markers for slaves.