Governor George Walker of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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The Rev. George Walker was sprung from a Yorkshire family,[1] which had made its home in the North of Ireland. His father, whose name was the same as his own, was successively Rector of Badony in the Diocese of Derry, and of Kilmore in the Diocese of Armagh. He entered on the former charge in 1630, and died in the latter on the loth of September, 1677. He owed his preferment in the Church to the friend of Laud, Dr. John Bramhall, so well known for his austerity to Nonconformists, and who was successively Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh. He, too, was a Yorkshireman, and may have had some acquaintance with the Walkers, before he and they settled in Ireland.

The son of the Rector of Kilmore, who obtained such celebrity in connection with the siege of Derry, was born, it is said, in 1618. He was educated at the University of Glasgow.[2] In 1669 he was Rector of Lissan in the neighbourhood of Cookstown, and in 1674 he added to this preferment the rectory of the parish of Donaghmore in the neighbourhood of Dungannon. His wife was Isabella Maxwell, a daughter of the Maxwells of Finnebrogue, in County Down.

When the Province of Ulster was putting itself in a posture to resist the schemes of Tyrconnel in the spring of 1689, Mr. Walker took some part in planting a garrison at Dungannon, and in supplying it with provisions; but acting on the orders of Lundy, the garrison and himself, without waiting for the enemy to come forward, withdrew from a post that was judged untenable, and retired to Derry. He had been stationed at the Long Causeway on the day that King James's army crossed the Finn at Clady, and having with his detachment kept his ground a little longer than some of the others, he found, when he reached Derry, that Lundy had shut him out of the gates. After the revolt in the city had disbanded Lundy and called new leaders to the front, Walker was nominated by Governor Baker as his Assistant, with the consent of the Council of War; and from that time he occupied the important post of Joint-Governor within the city, as well as that of a colonel in one of the city regiments.

Though entitled to the praise of zeal in the cause, and of the best intentions, he does not seem to have been a man of any great ability or penetration. He believed in Lundy to the last. Even so late as the 18th of April—the day that Murray and the citizens renounced the authority of Lundy—Walker was one of those who urged him to continue to act as Governor, and promised him all the assistance in their power; and when the traitor refused to retain office, out of respect for his commission and his person, Walker thought it his duty to contribute to his safety, and, along with Baker, to connive at his escape.[3] The charge of the commissariat, which was committed to him, was a very important trust; and when men were dying with hunger, we can well believe that it was very difficult to discharge it to the satisfaction of everybody. As might be expected, his conduct was not above suspicion, and some did not hesitate during the siege to express their dissatisfaction loudly; but, on the whole, it does not appear that any man in the city was better qualified for the position that he occupied; the allegations made against him were not submitted to the test of a public trial; and, the truth is, he seems to have made the provisions go as far as it was possible in the circumstances to do. It was doubtless owing to his constant and watchful oversight at the stores, that he was not able to take that active part in military affairs which might be expected from a colonel; and that in none of the original accounts of the siege, except in his own, do we ever read that he commanded in a skirmish, headed a sortie, or planned an attack. After the relief of the city, he was, however, very deferential to Kirke, and it was by the appointment of Kirke, not of the garrison, that he was selected to go to London to present the address of the city to the King. The unwise appointment of a clergyman to this duty, and the still more unwise mode in which that clergyman discharged the duty, had the effect of casting for the first time among the defenders of the city the disintegrating element of religious dissension. Walker abused his position to claim for his own party the sole credit of the siege, and to depreciate the Presbyterians, except for whom, it is now well known, the siege would have never taken place.

After more than two hundred years of penal laws, oppression, emigration, and proselytism, it is well known that, even yet, in very few parts of Ulster could any promiscuous meeting of Protestants be held, without having in it a very considerable representation of the Presbyterian population. By the census of 1871, within the bounds of the Province of Ulster there were 522,774 Presbyterians, and 398,705 Episcopalians,[4] but in 1689, before the wearing influences named above had been acting for any great length of time, the proportion of Presbyterians was greater than now. The following statement of the Rev. Charles Leslie, who was well acquainted with Ireland, may be exaggerated,—I believe it is,—but it bears out the allegation that the vast preponderance of the Protestant population of Ulster was Presbyterian at the time of the Revolution:—"Now I must inform you," says Mr. Leslie, in his Answer to Bishop King, "that the Nonconformists are much the most numerous party of the Protestants in Ulster, which is that is called the North of Ireland. Some parishes have not ten nor six that come to church, while the Presbyterian meetings are crowded with thousands, covering all the fields. This is ordinary in the County of Antrim especially, which is the most populous of Scots of any in Ulster (who are generally Presbyterians in that country). In other of the Northern Counties, the Episcopal Protestants bear a greater proportion; some more, some less. But, upon the whole, as I have it from those that live upon the place, they are not one to fifty, nor so much; but they would speak within compass."[5]

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[1] False Libel, p. 10.

[2] Vindication, Preface, p. 7; Ware, vol. ii., p. 205.

[3] Walker's True Account, April 18th.

[4] Thom's Almanac for 1872, p. 780.

[5] Answer to King, p. 78.

Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689

Thomas Witherow's thoroughly researched and well-annotated work is a classic account of the Siege of Derry, from the shutting of the gates against the Jacobite forces by the thirteen apprentice boys to the relief of the city by Major-General Kirke's fleet in July 1689. The defence of Enniskillen and the counteroffensive actions of the Enniskilleners is also ably documented.

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Fighters of Derry

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.

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The Actions of the Enniskillen-men

While the epic siege of Derry is usually accorded its proper place in history, the contemporaneous exploits of the Enniskillen men are often overlooked. This is manifestly unjust because the Enniskilleners demonstrated bravery and heroism in battle at least equal to that of the defenders of Londonderry. Some, of course, rate the actions of the Enniskillen men more highly. As far as Revd Andrew Hamilton, the Rector of Kilskeery and author of A True Relation of the Actions of the Inniskilling Men (1690), was concerned ‘The Derry men saved a city but the Enniskilleners saved a kingdom.’

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