Hanging out with the body suspension crew

It’s nice to hook up with a swinging scene at Waterford City Tattoo Convention – you’ve just gotta suspend disbelief

It’s impossible to knock around the festivals of Ireland without encountering an oddity or 12.

Racing pigs, with little knitted jockeys on their backs, streaking through the streets of Ballinasloe is not something you see everyday. A man with his tongue split and his whole body tattoo’d to resemble a lizard is not your average Joe Festival. The traditional art of bucket singing makes for an unusual gig, and a spot of penis puppetry tends to stand out at a theatre fiesta.

I've seen some weird shit on my obsessive festival travels, but the crew floating about at Waterford City Tattoo Convention have raised the bar.

At a body-art gathering you can expect some grimacing amidst the buzz of tattoo-iron needles, some sharp intakes of breath as nipples are gouged and the flap of ear-lobe holes stretched wide enough to allow the insertion of Marty Morrissey’s head. It was the large surgical steel fishhooks I wasn’t prepared for.


The classic western A Man Called Horse has a pivotal scene where Richard Harris's character is accepted into a Sioux tribe through a initiation ceremony that involves incisions being made in his upper chest. Wooden pegs are threaded through the incisions and he's suspended from the rafters by rope attached to the pegs. The intense and gruesome scene is based on paintings George Catlin made of the O-Kee-Pa ceremony performed by the Mandan tribe. Waterford has it's own swinging scene.

Joan McGuinness seemed like a normal enough girl. I watched folk from Post Modern Primitive Suspension survey her back carefully, pinching her skin, marking out optimum spots with ink. In a synchronized action, the PMP crew pierced Joan, threading four large surgical hooks through the spots they'd marked on her back. There stood Joan, with four large steel hooks lodged just below her shoulder blades, her suspenders busily attaching rivets to the eyes of the hooks. I stood there thinking – "Jaysus. You wouldn't do it to a mackerel".

The rivets were attached to a pulley rig that hung from the rafters of the hall, and gradually, Joan was hoisted above a bemused, grossed-out and intrigued crowd. It was riveting – literally! One of the crew responsible for stringing her up, grabbed her by the ankles and swung her around the place. The young lady whose back was bleeding, with hooked skin now higher than her shoulder blades, unbelievably smiled all the while. She told me that after the piercing and initial hoisting, it doesn't hurt at all.

“It’s amazing, an unbelievable experience” gushed debutante Joan afterwards. “Once you’re in the air you’re pain-free and can just float around like a fairy. The only feeling you have is like somebody holding on to your shoulder muscle but not in a painful way, like a massage. And when you get down, you feel so light and just really relaxed because it stretches out your muscles”.

Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro is a former heroin addict and self-confessed adrenalin junkie who reckons nothing he's done has given him the buzz that body suspension has. Allen Falkner, founder of the performance suspension group TSD (Traumatic Stress Discipline) and the man referred to as the 'Father of Modern Suspension' suggests – "If life had a dial to adjust the volume, suspension has a way of accessing this invisible knob and turning it down."

The reaction on social media when I posted a picture of Joan swinging from the rafters was as shocking as the act itself. It’s not for the squeamish, but calling people who practice body suspension “idiots” and belittling what they do for kicks, seemed out of proportion. Is it any more absurd than golf?

Ritual suspension and oscillation isn’t for everybody, but if you do want to hang out with the crew at Waterford City Tattoo Convention next year, give me a shout, I can hook you up.

Safe travels, don’t die.