Celtic Tattoos

Tattoo Designs From Ancient Ireland

Celtic tattoos have experienced a massive revival in recent years. The history of the Celtic people goes back thousands of years. The early Celts displayed their skills in complex artwork particularly metal, jewelry and weapons as they were regarded as fierce warriors by the Romans. Evidence of Celtic crosses and Celtic artwork can still be found all over Ireland.

Modern Celtic peoples have evolved symbols for themselves, and North Americans of Celtic descent often wear these symbols to show their Celtic origin. The ancient Celts passed knowledge down through an oral tradition of storytelling and didn't keep many written records, consequently, there is little evidence of their tattooing remaining even though Celtic cross tattoos and Celtic know tattoos are very popular designs.

Typical Celtic tattoo design showing intricate knotwork.

Intricate Celtic tattoo design © Robert - Ontario, Canada

Most of Celtic tattoo designs are taken from the Irish Illuminated Manuscripts The Book of Kells, which is on display in the library of Trinity College in Dublin, my home town. This is a much later time period than the height of Celtic tattooing. Designs from ancient stone and metal work are more likely to be from the same time period as Celtic tattooing.

Celtic knot tattoos are usually loops with no end or beginning symbolizing the never ending cycle of death and rebirth. Celtic animal (zoomorphic tattoo designs) designs are similar in construction but the cords terminate in feet, heads, tails. Pure knots are usually unending, unless the end of a strand is stylized into a zoomorphic element or a spiral.

Celtic tattoo depicting an ancient Celtic symbol called a triskelle.

Ancient Celtic symbol called a triskelle found at Newgrange © Oisín - San Antonio, USA

The intricacy of Celtic knotwork defies literal translation and its meaning is to be found 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 and for these reason Celtic tattoos have become so popular.

For people who have a Celtic heritage, whether Irish, Scots or Welsh , getting a Celtic design can be a way of expressing pride in their heritage by reaffirming an affinity the indigenous artistic style of their ancestors. They are usually not easy designs to do, and it is strongly recommended to anyone contemplating getting one to make sure that the artist they are considering has experience in designing Celtic tattoos. Not all tattoo artist such an eye for detail and exacting line placement required for the intricate patterns particular to Celtic tattoos.

Celtic tattoo.

Typical Celtic knotwork tattoo © Jessie Johnson - Austin, USA