Sketch for Irish tattoo at HarborArts


Boston is known for the great numbers of Irish who immigrated here in several waves and became the foundation of many local neighborhoods. They originally came as indentured servants and laborers, and were looked down upon by the English-descended Bostonians. While many Irish were laborers elsewhere in America and fighters in the American Revolution, the potato famine of the mid-1800’s caused a huge influx of Irish to Boston starting at that time.

The Irish here have had significant presence and influence, and shaped the culture of Boston, becoming represented at all levels of city government and business. Many people in Ireland today can list relatives who live in Boston.

“Ancient Celtic art was full of interlacing patterns, elaborate knotwork, spirals, animal forms and animal zoomorphics. Knotwork’s meaning defies literal translation and should be sought at a deeper level. The repeated crossing of the physical and the spiritual are expressed in the interlace of the knots. The never ending path of the strands may represent the permanence and the continuum of life, love and faith.” –(Reprinted from:

Motifs used:

  • Interlaced Animals (Birds & dragons) – Taken loosely from elements in the Book of Kells. Traditional decorative forms.
  • Infinite Knot or Celtic knotwork –  a neverending repeating design with one or more strands, symbolic of infinity & continuity of life.
  • Triple Spiral – Found in pre-Celtic stone carvings and Celtic art. The original meaning is unknown, but Christians view it as the Trinity, and other interpretations could be: Land, Sea and Sky; The three stages of life (Maiden, Mother and Crone); or the nine months of pregnancy (as a fertility symbol).
  • Shamrock – Not a traditional but a popular modern symbol of Ireland. The traditional symbol for the country was the harp.


History & Style of Body Art:

“The celts were a tribal people who moved across western Europe in times around 1200 and 700 B.C. they reached the British Isles around 400 B.C. and most of what has survived from their culture is in the areas now known as Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Celtic culture was full of body art.”

Irish dock tattoo“…body painting was done with woad, which left a blue design on the skin. Spirals are very common, and they can be single, doubled or tripled. Knotwork is probably the most recognized form of celtic art, with lines forming complex braids which then weave across themselves. These symbolise the connection of all life. Step or key patterns, like those found in early labyrinth designs, are seen both in simple borders and full complex mazes. Much in the way that labyrinths are walked, these designs are symbolic of the various paths that life’s journey can take.”

“Many believe that the best way to interpret Celtic artwork is as meditation or as a prayer. Celtic tattoos are usually not strictly representational and they do not attempt to duplicate the world and especially nature exactly as it is (nature being imperfect anyways). They are made of sinuous lines that form an intricate interweaving formed to complete a cycle (there is no end nor a beginning to a Celtic knot).”

Irish dock tattoo in process

Installation crew:

Design & Layout: Liz LaManche
Projection Techs: Brian Browne, Joe R.
Inking: Dan Alroy, Julia Jerome, Carolyn Flesner, Brian Browne, Joe R., Hapto McGee
Sealant application: Liz LaManche, Dan Alroy, Carolyn Flesner, Amanda Leigh Berberich, Joe R., Tanya Rose