How would you describe your relationship with your tattoos?
My relationship with my tattoos is simply one of comfort. They’re a part of me and have been for so long that sometimes I forget about them. I fail to realise a lot of the time that they are so noticeable so I’m still surprised when people describe me as “the tattooed girl” and not some other epithet. That’s not to say that I completely forget they’re there!
I love how they make me look, not in a vain way, but more when I look at myself the image that looks back is one that I like and accept. I’m insecure like everyone else, but they’re one of the few things about myself that I feel is right. I have a lot now, but I want to be covered. It’s like a hobby, a journey and sometimes mission to have every inch of myself etched with something that conveys a part of who I am. It’s hard to describe, really.
Can you tell me a bit about the journey your mum went on in embracing your tattoos? She wasn't always keen on them, was she?
Nope! My mother was SO angry when I got my first one. I was only 16 so she had every right, but I think for her she saw it as another act of rebellion. I was always getting piercings and getting into trouble at school so I think for her it was a very permanent act of rebellion that I would one day regret. I totally understand where she was coming from, a lot of people regret their tattoos. Luckily, I’m not one of them.
Her acceptance came when I got one for her. I was leaving the country to go to uni in Wales and I asked her to write me something that I could look at when I got lonely and needed her advice. My mother has such a beautiful way of always knowing the right thing to say and has a plethora of idioms and proverbs at hand. She came back a few hours later with “today is the tomorrow you were worried about yesterday” and at the end she had written “love you, xo”. She had written it out on a piece of paper as I told her I was getting it framed. I got it tattooed instead. It’s one of my favourite ones.
Not only have I got my mother’s handwriting on me forever, I also have her love and I’ll always remember her voice as she was reading it out to me. When I showed her she welled up. She was furious at first, of course, but it touched her. It was then I think she started to see that there was meaning and purpose behind my tattoos and thus began her journey of acceptance!
It’s funny because my little brother copied me (yes, Caolán, you COPIED me) and got the same thing tattooed on his chest so it’s kind of become a family tradition now and she loves it. I’ll convince her to get one some day!
You've lived in a few cities and I wondered if you could tell me how people responded to your tattoos in each location?
I left Ireland in 2008 and only had a few done there, but back then it wasn’t so commonplace, I think especially for women, to have a lot done. Maybe I’m wrong in saying that and there were definitely heavily tattooed women, I just didn’t come across them personally, unless I visited a tattoo parlour or piercing studio. They were quite mysterious and exotic. I have a large one the length of my spine that I had done when I was 19 and I remember at parties my friends would say “have you seen the size of this one?” and show my back and I would have genuinely shocked reactions even though it’s not actually that impressive!
When I moved to Wales I felt right at home. Wales is very alternative and I think that stems from the Welsh just being a very accepting and very cool bunch of people. It was during my time there that I got most of mine done in a very short period. I was friends with my tattooists; still am with some of them and living there really enabled me to just not give a shit what people thought because they didn’t. I think I was one of the most heavily tattooed girls at my university and I worked in the local rock nightclub so I definitely found myself at home there and made a lot of friends from being approached, and in a way known, I guess, for it.
I live in London now and I’m a dime a dozen! I feel like everyone in London has way cooler tattoos than I do, but I still do get the odd tourist asking for a photo at work or taking a sneaky one on the tube. People love to talk to you about them - usually the people you’d least expect! It kind of breaks down a barrier in a way as there’s instantly something to start a conversation about and I’m more than happy to oblige (as long as they’re friendly!).
Often people will talk about tattoos being addictive. Is this something you've experienced? What do you think it is that makes them addictive?
Yes tattoos are most definitely addictive! I think every single person who has one agrees on that. I thought really long and hard about this question and I still don’t have a good answer. It’s very hard to explain. I think you get such a rush from having one done, even the pain is all part of the experience that you instantly want to go back for more. With every one of mine I’ve had such an amazing feeling after having one that, yeah, it just makes you want more. In my case, I have all of mine planned out to keep me going at least a few more years, ones that I’ve had in my mind for years and still haven’t gotten done yet. Maybe that’s it: the obsession with wanting to complete something.
Are your tattoos a source of confidence?
Absolutely. Like I said, I wouldn’t feel like me without them. I couldn’t imagine myself with bare skin, it’s too weird to even contemplate. When I was younger I was much louder and brash. My image definitely matched my personality. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more reserved and in ways, shy, but I still have the marks of my youth to convey to the world that deep down inside I’m colourful, I’m tough, but most importantly, I don’t give a shit what you think. My image has always been the one thing that I have had complete control over and that’s very liberating. I’ve never been restricted by it in my personal and professional life and that has definitely given me the confidence of knowing who I am and what I’m about.
How would you describe your collection of tattoos?
Oh God, I don’t think I can, really. They’re a real mismatch of different styles and lines and subject matters. Some have profoundly personal meaning behind them, like my mother’s one, or the one of my cat, but others I got as a joke to make my little brothers laugh, or because it was my favourite book and I just HAD to immortalise it on my skin. They’re all over the place really. Like I said, most people have way cooler and way better tattoos than I have, but mine all tell a story that only I can read so for me that’s enough. There doesn’t have to be a theme, just memories.