Garry Ahern profiles the Irish artist, teacher, art critic and journalist Norman Garstin. A member of the New English Art Club, he was included in Hugh Lane’s exhibition of Irish Art at the Guildhall in London (1904). Examples of his work can be found at the National Gallery of Ireland, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery.


Norman Garstin never knew his mother’s voice, and his father died tragically when he was fourteen. Eighteen years later, he lost the sight of one eye. He then determined he would become an artist-and he succeeded!

Born in County Limerick, Norman Garstin (1847-1926) came from an establishment family background, where sons who did not inherit property went into the army or pursued a career in the church. He followed none of those paths. Instead, he was to achieve significant success as an artist, but his life would take several twists and turns along the way to success.

In the 1840s, Captain William Garstin, of the 83rd Foot Regiment, had been based near Limerick. There, he met and married Mary, daughter of the relatively well-off Church of Ireland Rector of Caherconlish, Rev. Matthew Moore. Sadly, the story of the marriage of William and Mary did not have a happy ending.

After the birth of their only child, Norman Garstin, in 1847, Mary was struck by a type of paralysis which caused her to lose her voice. While she lived for another twenty-four years, Norman was to have no recollection of ever hearing his mother’s voice.

He was reared at the Rectory, and initially looked after by Mary’s sister, Elizabeth. It is likely that he benefited from early tuition by his well-read grandfather, Rev. Moore, who was a Trinity College, Dublin, graduate and owned a sizeable library.

When aged nine, and in delicate health, Norman was despatched to the island of Jersey, where he was under the care of his paternal uncle and namesake, Rev. Norman Garstin, and his wife, who lived at St. Helier. Two years later, back in Ireland, his father retired from the army with the honorary rank of Colonel.

It might have been expected he would have been available to look after his incapacitated wife and young son. Tragically, this was never to be. In 1861, in circumstances that are unclear, William Garstin, aged 55, was found dead at Finglas, near Dublin, having taken his own life.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own