Gaelic Finger Tattoos

“Oh, so in Ireland, you get these dot tattoos on your fingers and every tattoo has a different meaning. Every finger is for a different thing. On your left ring finger, if you’ve had two marriages, you have two dots tattooed on your left ring finger. There’s another finger where you get a dot for each child you’ve had. There’s another finger where you get a dot for every big life experience or tragedy. I call them Gaelic meaning dots because that’s what my Gran calls them. My Gran, that’s my dad’s mom, told me about this. She’s from Ireland. I actually once thought about getting those tattoos. My Gran had them for a long time but had them removed because it was hard for her to get a job. You can still see them lightly because tattoo removal is a lot more advanced now.”


The informant’s story about her Gran getting these finger tattoos is particularly interesting because it shows how institutions and traditions can be in conflict with each other, and how one culture’s traditions can be in conflict with another culture’s view of what is acceptable. These finger dot tattoos obviously carry deep importance and the informant told me that she has considered getting them, despite the fact that she was not born in Ireland and never lived there (she identifies as American.) However, the informant’s Gran found it very difficult to get a job when she came to America because tattoos of any sort are usually considered to be trashy or unprofessional, and most Americans are probably not aware of this folk tradition. Thus, her Gran felt she had to adapt and change in order to assimilate and function in American society.