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The aberrant account of the tattooed Irishman

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PT Barnum, the acclaimed American showman and promoter, is believed to accept coined the byword ‘There’s a accoutrement built-in every minute’. In 1840s New York City, Barnum was appreciative to action the public, as a banderole exhibit, one Mr James F O’Connell, the Tattooed Irishman. O’Connell was built-in in 1808 on Thomas Street in the Liberties, and aloft abysmal in the affection of the burghal Dublin.

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/the-strange-tale-of-the-tattooed-irishman-36305854.html

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PT Barnum, the acclaimed American showman and promoter, is believed to accept coined the byword ‘There’s a accoutrement built-in every minute’. In 1840s New York City, Barnum was appreciative to action the public, as a banderole exhibit, one Mr James F O’Connell, the Tattooed Irishman. O’Connell was built-in in 1808 on Thomas Street in the Liberties, and aloft abysmal in the affection of the burghal Dublin.

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Years later, the accessible paid 25 cents to watch O’Connell accomplish at Barnum’s American Museum. His was an adventurous account of actuality captivated in bondage amidst ‘savages’ on the alien Pacific island of Pohnpei. Afterwards actuality ashore on the shores, he was forcibly tattooed all over his anatomy and again affiliated off to the chief’s youngest daughter. He would bandage to acknowledge his tattooed anatomy arrangement and accomplish the Irish jig that he claimed adored his life. Earlier this summer I stood in New York, at the aboriginal area of Barnum’s American Museum. I was researching O’Connell’s activity story, aggravating to abstracted actuality from fiction.

Barnum’s Building austere bottomward in 1865 but in its day it was the allocution of New York. There was a flea circus, a approach run by a dog, the block of a timberline beneath which Jesus’s aggregation were said to accept sat, Ned the abstruse seal, the Feejee Mermaid (a diminished monkey’s anatomy with a fish’s tail), midgets, Siamese twins, behemothic men and barbate ladies. At its peak, the building accustomed as abounding as 15,000 visitors daily.

O’Connell is recognised as America’s aboriginal tattooed showman – and a seminal amount in the apple of tattoo. It’s estimated that over 40pc of us now accept tattoos, and the actualization began with O’Connell, who became acclaimed afterwards the adventure of his activity was appear in 1836. His adventures reads like a Boy’s Own atypical and provides a almanac of an undisturbed ability on the alien South Pacific apricot island of Pohnpei in the 1830s. The island lies about bisected way amid Hawaii and the Philippines and is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia. It’s additionally about 13,000km to the east of Ireland. O’Connell managed to almanac ethnographic detail that would bound vanish as European acquaintance added in the decades afterward his departure.

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The son of bazaar parents, he writes how he went to sea as a berth boy age-old 11 on a address accustomed 200 changeable convicts to Botany Bay. Later, he active on with the Whaler ‘John Bull’, sailing from Australia to New Zealand. In a bad storm the address hit a beach and sank, abrogation him in an accessible baiter with bristles added men for four canicule until they assuredly sighted the island of Pohnpei.

Marriage ritual

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There the locals took them bound and O’ Connell danced the Irish jig that was afterwards to accomplish him famous. The ball may accept adored his and the added men’s lives. O’Connell had been bare naked and was anxious back the islanders seemed absorbed in his dejected veins and white skin. Tales of cannibalism were accepted at the time in abyssal lore. So he danced to save his own skin.

Initially, activity was acceptable amidst his saviours. But one day, afterwards warning, he was confined in a hut and over eight canicule was tattooed about the anatomy by a assumption of “voluptuous virgins”. It took the Irishman a ages to balance from his ordeal. A barbecue was again captivated in his honour. At the celebration, added tattoos were placed aloft his anatomy by yet addition island “beauty”. Afterwards on, O’Connell realised that he was affiliated to the babe who activated those final markings. He spent four or bristles years amidst the association and fathered two children.

We are borderline if he was subjected to the rite of access ritual aloof for Pohnpeian warriors – the crushing of the larboard testicle amid two rocks as a affidavit of affliction endurance. He makes no advertence to that. What we do apperceive is he did not alternate to abandon the island on the aboriginal address that anchored abutting abundant for him to ability with a baseborn canoe.

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In 1835, he accustomed in New York City and bound acquired notoriety. For the abutting 20 years he danced, bare and told his adventure up and bottomward the eastern beach of the US, but consistently abiding to the theatres and shows in New York, area he was affirmed a acceptant crowd. Audience letters and bi-weekly reviews from this time accredit to the aberrant actualization of his markings. This has acquired a cardinal of writers and historians to altercation some of James F O’Connell’s claimed details. It is accepted that in Pohnpeian ability alone the hands, arms, legs and lower anatomy of men are tattooed. It is speculated that O’Connell’s added boom assignment was apparently added afterwards to accord him added showbiz appeal.

In the closing stages of his career, he formed for Dan Rice’s Circus. In his adventures Dan Rice writes: “In 1852 we travelled by my steamship on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. We got up the electric ablaze to brighten the tent… but a aerialist took ailing and died from the aftereffect of the chemicals we acclimated to actualize the light. Abounding of the affiliation took ailing and one member, James O’Connell, who had anemic lungs, died a abbreviate time after.”

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O’Connell anesthetized abroad on January 29, 1854. He was 46 years of age. Even in afterlife he was a showman. Maria Ward Brown, a about of Rice wrote: “When committed to the earth, the bandage played a active tune… Poor O’Connell anticipation that the alteration from a activity of denial and adversity was added appropriately acclaimed by music and amusement than affliction and lamentation.”

In the apple of tattooing and anatomy art, O’Connell is fêted as a seminal pioneer. His adventure has been advised and interrogated by historians and anthropologists, abounding of whom accept acknowledged ample swathes of his tale. In my own case, I accept travelled bags of miles, advised records, manifests and ship’s logs in an attack to acquisition the facts abaft the legend. O’Connell had a allowance that accustomed him to ad-lib and allotment calm his account application absolute people, absolute places and absolute ships and than rearranging them into an adjustment that ill-fitted his narrative. We apperceive area and back he was built-in and we apperceive area and back he died. We apperceive he lived on the island of Pohnpei and was tattooed by changeable tattooists. As for the actual questions throughout his life, some I’ve begin answers to, some not – but either way, it’s been a alluring documentary to accept formed on.

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Documentary On One: The Tattooed Irishman, affectedness today at 2pm on RTÉ Radio 1, and is again tomorrow at 7pm. Additionally online www.rte.ie/doconone

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