Friday, 7 September 2012

George Walker 1645-1690 : Bishop of Derry Designate 1690

George Walker's early years are obscure, but he is thought to have been born around 1645. He matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin in 1662 and later took Holy Orders. In 1669 he was appointed to the parishes of Lissan and Desertlyn, diocese of Armagh. Five years later he became Rector of Donoughmore, near Dungannon, County Tyrone. It was here he was to remain until the outbreak of political unrest caused by the contending Williamite and Jacobite forces. With the shutting of the gates of Londonderry against the approaching Catholic regiment in December 1688, Walker raised a regiment in defence of a possible massacre of Protestants. Its first engagement in combat was around Clady and Lifford in mid-April, about 15 miles upstream from Derry. The Williamite forces suffered a rout and so anxious were the inhabitants of Derry to safeguard their own position that Walker found himself locked out of the city for a period of time in the ensuing retreat. The Governor of the city, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Lunday, was heavily criticized for his lack of leadership in the debacle. In his judgement the Jacobite forces against them, he had decided on the futility of holding out, opting instead for a negotiated surrender. His defeatism, in the face of rising internal opposition to his command, made his position untenable. He was deposed and forced to flee. In his place the soldiers and citizens elected Major Henry Baker and Walker as joint Governors.

The Siege of Derry, which was to last for 105 days, gave George Walker as Governor a central role in the city's defence. His stirring sermons based on a wholehearted trust in God's ultimate providence undoubtedly kept spirits from sinking within the city walls. In its aftermath he rose to fame and was feted in England and Scotland. Oxford and Cambridge awarded him honorary degrees, he was given the thanks of the House of Commons, and the Irish Society gave a banquet in his honour. Most significant was William III's promise of the bishopric of Derry when it became vacant. In June 1690 the absentee Bishop Hopkins died leaving the path clear for Walker's appointment. Fate, however, decided otherwise as he was to be killed in action the following July during the Battle of the Boyne. He was buried where he fell, but thirteen years later  his supposed body was removed, at the request of his widow, to the parish of Donoughmore. In 1862 a window was erected in his memory in St Columb's Cathedral. In addition, a memorial pillar crowned with a statue of him was erected on the city walls in 1826. In 1973 it was blown up by Republican terrorists.

Walker was also to publish A True Account of the Siege of Londonderry (1689) in which he was to portray himself as a heroic figure in the whole affair. It was thus criticized for its egotistical tone. In particular, it provoked sustained criticism from Presbyterians who felt that he had underplayed their part during the siege. In his defence, Walker was quickly forced to follow up with A Vindication. The Revd John Mackenzie, who was Walker's regimental chaplain, carried the Presbyterian argument to the militant cleric in his Narrative. Despite taking issue on a number of valid points, his critiqued suffered from an overtly personal attack on Walker's character.

No comments:

Post a Comment