A family got matching Hilton Head lighthouse tattoos 2,753 miles from Harbour Town — here’s why

Built on ‘honesty and integrity:’ William Whalley talks about Harbour Town lighthouse

Mr. William Whalley built the Harbour Town lighthouse with the help of his brother in 1969. Learn the inspiration behind Hilton Head's famous landmark — and how Whalley got the job.
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Mr. William Whalley built the Harbour Town lighthouse with the help of his brother in 1969. Learn the inspiration behind Hilton Head's famous landmark — and how Whalley got the job.

On her 61st birthday last June, in a California tattoo shop, Cindy O’Neill and her two children — one of whom had flown in from Florida — got matching tattoos ... of a South Carolina lighthouse.

The red-and-white striped Harbour Town Lighthouse in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

“I did,” her daughter, Shannon, 25, said, when asked who was the first to feel the sting of a needle at Blue Star Tattoos & Body Piercing, the Concord, Calif., shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“I did!” Cindy retorted, smiling.

“No,” Shannon said, grinning. “I went first because you didn’t want to go first!”

The women chuckled as they sat in red rocking chairs under a shaded canopy Thursday near the lighthouse, the likeness of which is inked on the insides of their right legs, just above the ankle.

Cindy’s son, Greg, 23, got the same tattoo on his left leg in a similar location — he might have been saving the spot on his right leg for something else, Cindy said.

Regardless, it was an image they picked because it symbolized family and vacation — and it was inked on their bodies precisely 2,753 miles from Harbour Town, according to Google Maps.

Cindy, now of Concord but originally from New Jersey, bought a timeshare on Hilton Head in 1988, but began vacationing on the island years earlier.

She remembers taking the kids parasailing on Calibogue Sound. They sometimes ventured to Savannah. Shannon liked to build sandcastles.

When it came time to mark Cindy’s birthday with ink, there were several concepts on the table.

Cindy remembers butterflies.

Shannon, who flew in from Orlando for the celebration, remembers palm trees, turtles and shells being suggested.

And while those images were part of Hilton Head, they were too ... ordinary.

“I look at it and it’s like a third home,” Shannon said. “I’ve lived all over the place. It just reminds me of going to Hilton Head, hanging out and doing family stuff. I just didn’t want a generic, boring, island tattoo. I wanted something that shouts, ‘Hilton Head!’”

Pictured from left is Shannon O’Neill, 25, of Orlando, Fla., her mother Cindy O’Neill, 61, of Concord, Calif., and her brother and Cindy’s son, Greg O’Neill, 23, also of Concord, Calif. The trio each got a tattoo of the Harbour Town Lighthouse on their ankles when celebrating their mother’s 61st birthday in California to remember family vacations to the island that started in the late 1980s. Shannon O'Neill Submitted

So, they settled on the lighthouse.

They Googled images of it and printed them off, and an artist at Blue Star made a stencil.

(And while the art will, someday, have to be touched up, there are no plans to add plaid accents to match the pattern that currently adorns the structure in honor of the 50th edition of the RBC Heritage PGA golf tournament.)

“Since we’ve been here, we’ve had a few people go, ‘Is that the Sea Pines lighthouse, is that the Harbour Town Lighthouse?’” Shannon said. “They recognize it. People (in Orlando) are like, ‘What’s that?’”

It’s Cindy’s second tattoo.

Shannon’s seventh.

As for Greg — also of Concord, and who couldn’t make this month’s beach trip — “he has, like, sleeves and stuff, so I don’t even know (how many he has),” Shannon said.

And while the memory of who was first under the needle that June day at Blue Star might be fuzzy, the family remembers who fell asleep during the ink job.


“They sat up (during the job),” she said of her children.

“I laid down — I was tired.”