In just a few weeks, the streets will be bustling with merriment, bombarded with people clinking pints of beer, some of them adorned in kilts. That's right, St. Patrick's Day is upon us yet again. While many people observe the holiday as an excuse to drink themselves silly, others have deeper ties to the heritage behind it.
Be it on a St. Patty's Day whim, or a plan that you've had bouncing around for years, if you decide to get an Irish themed tattoo, you should at least know what it means. Here are five popular Celtic symbols and what they represent.
1. Claddagh heart
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a claddagh is an Irish design of two hands holding a heart. But, you already knew that as the symbol has become so mainstream. Surely, you've seen a claddagh ring on the hand of a friend who's made it a point to tell you that upside down it signifies that you're in a relationship, or at the very least, your heart is taken. You've probably also come across a claddagh in your travels – be it in a dusty little gift shop wedged into a strip mall on the outskirts of a beach town, or even in a high-end specialty jewelry shop.
Still, you might not know that the claddagh also represents friendship and loyalty, as stated in the dictionary. Claddagh.com explained that the symbol hails from the town of – drum roll – Calddagh, Ireland, and there's a legend to go along with its existence.
To make a long story short, a lad was kidnapped, then later released. He returned to propose to his love after being lost at sea for years. In Ireland, a lady should always have faith that her true love will come back, stated the source.
2. Celtic Serpent
From afar the coiled design looks more like a mandala than a reptile, which makes it easy to distinguish the Celtic Serpent from a rattlesnake or boa constrictor tattoo design. In general, snakes represent transformation because of their ability to shed skin and start anew.
According to Irish Central, Celtics' view of snakes is slightly different from the rest of the world. They've thought that the creatures emerged from the center of the earth. Further, that the snakes were the gatekeepers of all of the world's secrets and wisdom. Although the snake stands for evil in other religions, the Celtics had considered it a healer.
3. Tree of Life
The Astrology of the Ancients website confirmed that the tree is symbolic of the cycle of life as well as balance. As legend has it, the tree, often referred to as crann bethadh by the Celts, was a place where they'd host get-togethers. It was sacred and to remain unharmed with the exception of revenge.
The only time chopping down the tree wasn't a disrespectful crime was when a man hacked down the tree of his enemy. This action was viewed as the ultimate feat.
4. The Irish flag
As stated by the World Flags 101 website, the colors of the flag don't signify anything on record, however, they're shrouded in mystery, which has bred a number of interesting legends about them. One in particular suggested that the colors correlate with religious beliefs – green for Catholics, orange for Protestants. The white middle strip is said to mean peace between the two groups.
Ireland adopted its flag on Dec. 29, 1937, according to the source.
5. The Harp
You've likely seen a harp on your mug of Guinness or on your Irish currency. It's practically everywhere in Ireland, according to Irish Central. But it's more than just a ubiquitous marking etched into a thousand beer mugs.
The source summarized that a harp stands for immortality. The instrument itself was played in earlier times, yet remains a popular choice today.
Of course, these legends were then and this is now. Any of the aforementioned symbols can represent a number of other meanings in modern times. It's worth it to spend some time researching your tattoo idea if you're fuzzy on its origin. Whatever you choose, just don't get it after one too many pints of beer. Showing up at a tattoo parlor inebriated may result in you getting tossed to the curb, or worse, inked. Any reputable tattoo artist will tell you that you should never mix booze and tattoos because you can bleed excessively when you're getting the work done. That leaves you and the artist with a mess on your hands.
Fortunately, if you have had an experience like this, you don't have to live with tattoo regret. You don't even need the luck of the Irish. Consider laser tattoo removal and celebrate your heritage in a more mild fashion next year.