It was a bit of a mad notion ... it is painful but it’s bearable,” says Darren Teague, as he gets a half-sleeve tattooed on his upper arm.

A fitness instructor from Omagh, Darren had a tattoo on his arm since he was 18 and decided to get it covered up. “If I hadn’t had that initial tattoo, I probably wouldn’t have bothered,” he explains. However, once the decision was made, he forked out £250 for the half-sleeve, which shows a cherub angel and a white dove.

“The only real symbolism in it is the harp because I play for Strathroy Harps. We won two Junior Cups and they are represented by the two stars,” he says. Darren believes that the younger generation do not think about how they will look in years to come, saying: “We will worry about those things when the time comes.” He adds: “I own a gym and I see that nine out of ten people would be tattooed.” After five hours (completed in two sittings), Darren is considering getting the inside of his arm done to complete the full sleeve (bringing the total cost to £400). Then, he says: “That’s me done.” Joanna Zieba (19) from Enniskillen tells The Impartial Reporter: “People still look at you like there is something wrong with you, but it’s exciting and addictive. You be so excited to see what the tattoo will look like.” Joanna has a few small tattoos, and keeps adding more. She doesn’t think she will have any regrets in the future, and she says some of her friends still think that tattoos are quite taboo.

Her friend Adam Morrow, 20, from Brookeborough gets up from the tattooist’s chair, his arm red and tender, with the beginnings of a half-sleeve on show.

“I wanted something different,” Adam explains. “I really wanted a tattoo and Michal’s work is really nice.” An old fashioned scroll winds its way down his arm. Over time, it will be filled with the names of family and loved ones. “I’m having a family theme,” he explains. “There will be a lot of art work and design too.” These are just three of the hundreds of locals that have joined the tattoo craze, sporting a range of designs such as small infinity signs, children’s names, and full arm and leg sleeves.

Slovakian tattoo artist Michal Majtas acknowledges that tattoos are becoming increasingly popular in Fermanagh, but he feels that, globally, they have been in-vogue for a long time. “About 50 per cent of the population want tattoos from a young age. It is art and a way of expressing yourself,” he says.

His Jack Daniels tattoo covers his entire back. Asked why he chose that particular design, he replies: “I’m their biggest fan.” He worked as a tattooist in Slovakia for eight years (where he received his acreditation). He moved to Lisnaskea two years ago, and has been based in Enniskillen since September last year, with customers from across Fermanagh and Tyrone. “I get a lot of people from Omagh. About 60 per cent are repeat customers,” he explains.

Locally, the most popular tattoos are religious themed i.e. angels and infinity signs. Females generally go for smaller tattoos, while males go for the ‘sleeves’.

Recently, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health called on the UK Government to address what it sees as a major public health risk posed by the dramatic increase in tattooing and body piercing. It has concerns about the ease with which skin infection and blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis B, C and D and HIV can be spread through poor practice.

On this Michal comments: “Work with peoples’ body, skin and blood is very dangerous. Anybody who has these diseases, or have cancer, or are pregnant, it isn’t possible to tattoo.” He adds: “I don’t tattoo people which are drunk or have taken any drugs. Health is the most important thing.” The tattoo parlour, based on Belmore Street, is registered by Fermanagh District Council.

Hygiene is important too, Michal says. “I clean my work room every day before I start and after work. Floors are disinfected, the area around the chair is disinfected between every customer. Equipment must be sterile and everything is done with gloves on. Each needle is used only once and goes straight into a special box.” Michal would prefer if customers researched their tattoo before arriving. “They come and say: ‘I don’t know what I want.’” He concludes: “There are a million things I can do: Asian; tribal; old school; religious, but it’s your skin, you will have this your whole life.”