Exploring Limerick’s most cherished form of cultural expression
By Benjamin Geary
Nestled in the heart of Limerick city, sits Tatúnna, a small tattoo studio devoted to the vocation of body artistry. If you are under the impression that tattoo shops are intimidating places that only welcome few, a visit to Tatúnna will undoubtedly relieve those reservations.
Tatúnna is owned by Gary “Sparky” Molloy, an artist with over 20 years’ experience tattooing in Limerick alone. With him is Pablo Briones Ortiz, a 28-year-old Chilean native who specialises in the practice of fine line hand poke tattoos, one of the few artists of his kind in Ireland.
In his younger years, Sparky travelled to Limerick as a customer of the city’s tattoo culture. After two pilgrimages to the city renowned amongst tattoo enthusiasts, he decided to move from his native Offlay to Limerick to begin his career in tattooing.
Unlike elsewhere, the stigma that haunted tattooing in other cultures did not entirely exist in Ireland, allowing artists like Sparky to thrive in Limerick.
“Now there’s generations of people getting tattoos, the people I was tattooing nearly 15 or 20 years ago as teenagers are now in management positions…
Tattooing has many different origins, with many cultures devising their own methods and motivations for permanently decorating their skin. The style that made it to Limerick is an extension of traditional American tattooing.
Today, Limerick is renowned by enthusiasts as a centre of tattooing. It is also home to many of the industry’s best-known artists. Limerick hosts a tattoo convention, which is the largest of its kind in Ireland and a key date for many of the industry leaders.
“It’s a hub for great tattoos,” Sparky explained. “People are drawn to Limerick; we would do conventions in different places and now those people are coming to us. There could be 15 tattooers local to them and they will still come to you.”
The artistic progression of tattooing in Limerick mimics similar progressions made in other realms of art around the world. Originality is revered in Limerick, with each artist working towards further defining their unique style within their artistic discipline.
Sparky added. “The quality of work in Limerick is going up and up constantly. With the convention as well, it’s drawing a lot more European eyes here.”
With the utmost esteem for his predecessors and contemporaries, Sparky repeatedly hinted to a ‘passing of the torch’ to his prodigy Pablo. Although Pablo’s style juxtaposes those that made tattooing in Limerick famous, the young Chilean’s work encapsulates the individuality and artistic progression that is cherished amongst the city’s best.
“He does fine line tattoos (by hand) that 90% of people can’t do with a machine” Sparky explained. “He has people travelling down from Northern Ireland just for an hour and a half tattoo.”
When asked about both his unique style and the entirely new client base his work attracts, Pablo seemed unsurprised, as if his belief in his ability completely outweighed any pre-existing norms or industry expectations.
“Limerick is big for tattoos but there’s not many people doing what I do, so I started attracting a different audience… I didn’t have to adapt here because people started searching for me.”
Pablo’s style of tattooing differs from many of Limerick’s best-known artists, using thin lines to create silhouettes of images and are applied with a handheld stick and poke needle. A painstaking process that requires exceptional accuracy to create elegant tattoos. A style that Pablo himself describes as “delicate and ornamental”.
If you are contemplating the idea of getting tattooed, whether it be your first or your next, the hospitality and patience of both Sparky and Pablo at Tatúnna is unmatched. If you’re more of an observer, then you can see Sparky and Pablo in action at the Limerick Tattoo Convention on the 25th and 26th of March at Treacy’s West County Hotel, Ennis.
Find out more about Tatúnna.