Gerhardt Gallagher – a key figure in Irish forestry and a pioneering artist

An Appreciation

Gerhardt Gallagher at the launch of his solo exhibition Ways and Byways in 2018

Forester and artist Gerhardt Gallagher, who died on May 2nd, was born in Waterford City in 1936. His father, Roland, a dentist, fought in the War of Independence and Irish Civil War, while his mother Lisa witnessed the rise of fascism in her native Germany. In 1939, Gerhardt and his younger brother Leonard were separated from Lisa, pushed through the window of a packed train attempting to leave wartime Germany. Lisa finally boarded, finding them, but for those hours Gerhardt thought he’d never see her again.

From childhood, Gerhardt had two passions: nature and art. Drawing before he could write, he spent hours at Waterford’s docks, sketching boats, waves and seabirds. After attending De La Salle College and art classes at Waterford Institute of Technology, he considered studying architecture. But a visit to the beautiful estate forests of Emo Park in Laois changed his mind. He graduated in forestry from UCD in 1958, later achieving a PhD on land use. All along he continued drawing, including candid pencil studies of The Dubliners on tour.

At a Dublin party in 1963, Gerhardt met Miriam O’Connor, a speech therapist and writer, also Waterford-born.

A “gauzer”, he described her. In 1966 they married, and began a family.


Gerhardt soon gained recognition as a gifted forest researcher, designing international experiments that helped Irish forestry punch above its weight abroad. A key figure in the Society of Irish Foresters, he was admired for his negotiation skills and his belief in forests as a valuable national resource that could engage communities, create jobs and offer havens for wildlife and reflection. His career as an artist was also taking off. Following studies at NCAD, he showed in group and solo exhibitions, critically regarded for innovative semi-abstracts inspired by astrophysics. In the 1980s, he shifted to political and figurative themes and began creatively collaborating with Miriam, designing her theatre sets, posters and book jackets.

In 1989, Gerhardt moved to the newly-formed Coillte as senior manager, later returning to the Forest Service as a consultant before taking up freelance life. During the 2000s, he lectured at UCD, conducted studies on carbon storage, wrote and edited papers and articles, and co-authored Trees, Forests and the Law in Ireland with Damian McHugh.

Meanwhile, a course in Airfield House drew him to print-making, a practice at which his maternal grandmother Margarethe had excelled.

Gerhardt’s etchings received immediate acclaim and he joined Black Church Print Studios. In 2011 he co-authored Verbindungen, a book tracing Irish-German connections through print-making. His preferred subject was now landscapes, populated by soaring cathedrals of trees and tiny human figures.

Gerhardt’s final decade brought challenges, chiefly the loss of his beloved Miriam to kidney disease in 2018. Though deeply concerned by climate catastrophe and the polarised stasis that had gripped Irish forestry, his passions for nature, science, art, politics and philosophy never faltered.

He remained a unique voice in forestry, advocating clear-sighted solutions respected across all divides. He continued writing for Crann, the Farmers’ Journal and Irish Forestry and delivered a TED Talk for children’s environmentalist Easy Treesie. His prints gained new audiences in the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts, and, just before his death, the Mill, Dundrum.

Gerhardt’s dedication to the mysterious creative power of nature endures, in his art and the great green cathedrals he treasured and helped cultivate – lasting solace for his children, Mia, Donnacha and Etain, his brother Len, son-in-law Seán, and all family, friends and colleagues who miss him.