Walker, John (1768–1833), religious leader and classical scholar, was born in January 1768 in Co. Roscommon, son of the Rev. Matthew Walker, Church of Ireland clergyman. In January 1786 he entered TCD, being made a scholar in 1788, and he became a prominent member of the College Historical Society. He graduated BA (1790), was elected a fellow of the college the following year, taking holy orders, and graduated MA (1793). A classical scholar of some ability, he wrote Horatian metres and began to edit the works of Livy, Lucian, and Pindar, while also working on a translation of Homer's Odyssey. In 1797 he published the first volume of his translation of Livy's Historiarum Libri (7 vols, 1797–1813). He was appointed Donnellan lecturer in 1799 and graduated BD in 1800. His promising career as a classical scholar was cut short, however, owing to his radical religious views. As early as 1794 he had been placed under a temporary inhibition after he had delivered some unorthodox sermons. He continued to explore the doctrines of the early Christians, and on 8 October 1804 approached Provost John Kearney (qv) of TCD and informed him that, owing to his religious convictions, he could no longer carry out his duties as an anglican clergyman in the college chapel. One of the conditions of his college fellowship was that he perform duties in chapel and, with considerable reluctance, the provost ordered him to be expelled the next day. His Letters to Alexander Knox (1803) and An expostulatory address to members of the methodist society in Ireland (1804) throw light on the emergence of his new religious attitudes.
Walker established his own religious congregation, based on severe Calvinistic lines, at a church in Stafford St. They referred to themselves as the ‘Church of God’ but were also known as ‘Separatists’ or ‘Walkerites’. He tended to attract well-to-do members of the Church of Ireland as his converts and, as a result, was extremely disliked by senior members of the established church. The loss of his fellowship left him in severe financial hardship and he continued to publish classical texts in an effort to support himself. These included The first, second and sixth books of Euclid's Elements, demonstrated in general terms (1808) and Selections from Lucian (1816). These were in reality ‘cram-texts’, designed to get students through their college exams, and his former colleagues were distressed to see his powers of scholarship so misused. He gave grinds on the classics and remained involved in college life in a small way until his expulsion from the College Historical Society in January 1815, following an argument with James Howlin, a student in the college.
He introduced the practice of ‘lip worship’ to his Stafford St. congregation, a development that would eventually alienate his followers in Dublin. In the concluding chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, St Paul uses the phrase ‘Greet ye one another with a holy kiss’ and Walker encouraged his congregation to kiss one another as a form of greeting at the beginning and end of worship. This practice resulted in some controversy and the matter came to a head when a young blacksmith enthusiastically ‘greeted’ a young lady who had wandered into Walker's church out of curiosity. Ultimately his congregation fragmented on the issue and in 1819 he moved to Scotland and then to London, where he gathered a small number of very wealthy followers. In 1833 TCD granted him a pension of £600, as a measure of recompense for his earlier dismissal. Returning to Dublin, he did not live to enjoy his new prosperity as he died 25 October 1833.
In 1838 William Burton published an edited collection of his papers in two volumes as The essays and correspondence of the late John Walker. After his death many of Walker's writings were published in new editions while some, such as Plane geometry and trigonometry (1844), were published for the first time. He also wrote hymns, one of which, ‘Thou God of power and God of love’ (1794), was included in several nineteenth-century hymn collections.