Spring 19. Tattooed Man was a collection inspired by tattoo culture and the remarkable story of James F O Connell, the Tattooed Irishman, who found fame and fortune as part of PT Barnums American Museum of Freaks.  

In the early 1800s he was regarded as the first man seen fully tattooed in the Western World. According to his own book O Connell, from inner city Dublin,  was on board a ship bound for Australia when it ran aground in the Pacific Ocean. He swam to a nearby island called Pohnpei where he was met by the island’s cannibal inhabitants who were about to sacrifice him. In an effort to save his life he danced an Irish jig which entertained the locals so much they spared him.

To claim him as one of their own they tattooed him all over using a traditional Maori tattooing technique called tapping. He married a tribal leader’s daughter, staying five years, before escaping on a passing ship bound for New York in the year 1835. There he joined Barnums American Musuem of Freaks. Millions of people visited to see him over the years at 25 cents a head. He danced his Irish jig and showed off his tattoos, becoming wealthy in the process. James F O Connell’s character can be seen in the Sky series The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman.

Tattooed Man also shines a light on 2nd generation Irish man Samuel F O Reilly who invented the electric tattoo gun using a modified version of fellow inventor Thomas Edison’s autographic printing pen.