Walker, George (1643×8–1690), clergyman and military governor of Derry during the siege of 1689, was born between 1643 and 1648, probably at Wighill, near Kirk Deighton, Yorkshire. His grandfather, the Rev. Gervase Walker (d. 1642), probably came to Ireland from Ruddington in Nottinghamshire in the reign of James I; he had a son, George (d. 1677), also a clergyman and a close friend of John Bramhall (qv), bishop of Derry. George Walker senior succeeded his father as rector of Badoney, Co. Tyrone (1630), and of Cappagh (1636) in the diocese of Derry, and fled to Yorkshire on the outbreak of rebellion in Ireland in 1641. In 1642 he married Ursula (d. 1654), eldest daughter of Sir John Stanhope, of Melwood, Yorkshire, and the couple had three sons and two daughters. George Walker senior returned to Ireland in 1660 and was restored to Cappagh and Badoney; he became rector of Donoughmore, Co. Donegal, in 1662, and chancellor of the diocese of Armagh by 1664.
George Walker junior, the eldest son, may have attended Glasgow university, but it is much more likely that he is the George Walker who matriculated in 1662 at TCD. He married (c.1668) Isabella Barclay and became rector of Lissan and Desertlyn, Co. Londonderry, in 1669. His wife may have been the daughter of the Rev. James Barclay, his predecessor in the living, or of the Rev. Robert Barclay, dean of Clogher. On the death of his father, George Walker junior succeeded as rector of Donoughmore.
After the arrival of William of Orange (qv) in England in November 1688 and the flight of James II (qv), protestants in several parts of Ulster began to contemplate resisting the Jacobite government in Dublin. Walker, on the advice of an unnamed nobleman, raised a regiment for the defence of Dungannon and went to see the governor of Derry, Colonel Robert Lundy (qv), in early 1689. Lundy, an officer in the army of King James who had switched his allegiance to William III, sent some help but shortly afterwards, on 14 March, evacuated Dungannon. Walker was soon numbered among the protestants who doubted Lundy's resolve to oppose James II. He took part in an engagement on the Finn river on 15 April, and afterwards was admitted to Derry against Lundy's wishes. In the following days Lundy's authority collapsed in the face of open opposition led by Adam Murray (qv). After Lundy's flight, Walker and Colonel Henry Baker (qv) became joint governors of Derry. On Baker's death Colonel John Mitchelburne (qv) became joint governor with Walker, who remained in office until the city was relieved on 31 July.
Walker had become famous in Ireland and especially in England long before the siege ended. William III was reported on 3 May to have toasted him and to have said that he would rather see him than any man in the world. Although his importance and the quality of his leadership would later be questioned, it was Walker's A true account of the siege of Londonderry (London, 1689) that immortalised its ordeals; he made memorable such details as the ‘fat gentleman’ who thought ‘several of the garrison looked on him with a greedy eye’ and the price list of food items including mice and rats, and dogs ‘fattened by the bodies of the slain Irish’.
He left Derry on 9 August, carrying a loyal address from the most prominent citizens to King William, and sailed first for Scotland, where he began a triumphal progress. He proceeded from Glasgow to Edinburgh, collecting honours along the way, and then via Chester to London, where he was feted as the symbol of heroic resistance to James II and the Irish. He attended William and Mary, who granted him £5,000, appeared before the house of commons, and lobbied the Irish Society for relief for the city of Derry and its inhabitants. The king wished to make him bishop of Derry, and Walker's cousin, the archbishop of Tuam, John Vesey (qv), was involved in attempts to persuade the incumbent, Ezekiel Hopkins (qv), to resign. These were unsuccessful but Walker appears to have been regarded as designated successor, while Oxford university conferred on him the degree of DD. Walker, like Vesey, was elected in October 1689 to a committee of Irish exiles, and was praised for his solicitude for less celebrated protestants who had suffered in the siege.
He was beyond criticism until, in September, he published his hurriedly composed account of the siege. Even his defenders later admitted that the tone was egotistical, but he gave special offence by understating the role of presbyterians in the besieged city. One of them, John Mackenzie (qv), published a scathing attack on Walker and questioned many of his claims. Another presbyterian, Joseph Boyse (qv), contributed to the ensuing pamphlet war, while an anonymous work in defence of Walker is attributed to Vesey. The controversies between Church of Ireland and presbyterian writers did not subside until 250 years after the disputed events. Their bitterness and endurance sprang from wider tensions between Ulster's two communities of protestants. Their old animosities, briefly put aside in the common effort against James II and his Irish catholic supporters, quickly re-emerged after the protestant victory. They were compounded by the belief of many presbyterians that their treatment at the hands of the Church of Ireland ascendancy after the war was ungenerous, and Walker served as the symbolic focus of resentment.
He returned to Ireland early in 1690, and was among those who welcomed William III in Belfast in June. On that occasion William received a deputation of presbyterian ministers who stressed the Calvinist beliefs they shared with him, and praised the role of presbyterians in the siege of Derry. Walker was provoked into an explosive contradiction in the presence of the king, though not within earshot. He accompanied William's army to the battle of the Boyne (1 July), where, going to tend (according to some accounts) to the fatally wounded General Schomberg (qv), he was himself shot dead and his body immediately stripped by ‘Scots-Irish’ camp followers.
He was survived by his wife (who had remained at Donoughmore during the siege), his three daughters, and four of his five sons. Two of his sons were with their father in Derry, and four were said to have been with him at the Boyne. He died intestate and appears to have left inadequate provision for his family; his eldest son, John, petitioned the Irish house of commons in 1697 and 1703 for a pension.
King William commissioned Godfrey Kneller to paint Walker's portrait, and many engravings, some after Kneller, were published. The British Library has a number of these, and the National Portrait Gallery in London has another, as well as a painted portrait; depictions of Walker are reproduced in Firth's edition of Macaulay and by Kerr and Lacy. Walker's memorial – his statue on a column – was a landmark in Derry from its construction in the late 1820s until it was destroyed by a bomb in 1973.