"Jap" Walker, as he here will be called throughout, is an enigma not just for his for faded photo but other reasons that will become apparent. But the explanation will be approached using the Rumsfeld principle, or more formally the "Johann Window".
And we begin with a "known known", at least to those who know their Irish rugby history. Jap Walker is the maternal great- grandfather of Mike Gibson, the great fly-half of his era for his country sixty-nine times and on twelve occasions for the British Lions.
But Gibson only came to the oval-ball game though his schooling. His first football came with the round-ball and it is hardly surprising. His maternal grandfather, son of "Jap", was William Henry "Harry" Walker, a winger converted to half-back, who was a great part of the Belfast Celtic team of the late 1930s that took five consecutive Irish League titles, including two doubles. Indeed he would be team captain in 1948 when the team withdrew from football altogether; another story. And he would also go on to manage Glentoran.
Harry Walker died whilst playing golf in 1996. He was eighty-four years old so born in 1912, May 1912, and in East Belfast, not the Falls Road, the origins of Belfast Celtic. His mother is listed as Anne or Annie Walker nee Ramsay and his father simply as John Walker, labourer. And John and Anne plus David, a grandson aged eight, are the names to be found on Jap Walker's assumed gravestone in Dundonald Cemetery, Belfast, John having died in 1963 aged seventy-six so born in 1887 and Annie a year earlier and born in 1890. Normally such detail should have made the unpeeling of the former's international footballing career beyond that fact that he, a left-winger, played once for Ireland, as it was, in 1911, at Parkhead against Scotland. The cap followed a reported junior career with 19th Old Boys before, and perhaps the precedent for his son, joining Belfast Celtic in 1908 so aged twenty or twenty-one, from when, as reported by Northern Irish sources, progress into the first team and beyond seems to have been rapid. In 1910 Celtic won the Co. Antrim Cup, defeating Glentoran. It would result in an immediate transfer to the English top-flight to Bury. It was a club in mid-table but would soon be in trouble. The following season with playing only a bit part with just eleven appearances it avoided the drop by one place. And the following season it was relegated with him already on his way back to Belfast and the second filial link, Glentoran, the 1912 Irish League title, apparently a son's Belfast birth (he would also have another footballing son, John, who too had links with the same Irish clubs as father and brother) and a single Irish cap that same year.
But now we enter the territory of not just "known unknowns" but even "unknown unknowns". The Irish-international John Walker is listed by Scottish sources as Thomas Walker. Moreover, when John cum Thomas Walker post-fixture was asked to proved his Irish nationality it was supposedly established he had actually been born in Scotland, hence his inclusion here but rendering him ineligible. He was never picked for Ireland again, despite being reported as playing at a high level locally in Belfast for the best part of another decade. Indeed, from one Irish source, whilst he did grow up in that same city, his birth-place had been Aberdeen, as Thomas Guyan Walker, but with the date given not as 1887 but 1885, whilst another source gives it as Glasgow. And a Thomas Walker, possibly even a Guyan like several of his siblings, born in Aberdeen and in 1885 seems to have existed. Moreover, that same year the whole family even seems to have emigrated. But alas it was not to Northern Ireland. It went to Canada. He then seems to be living in Montreal in 1891, aged six, and in 1901, aged sixteen before the trail disappears, leaving open an intriguing but very complicated possibility. It is that sometime in the 20th Century's first decade Thomas Walker re-crossed the pond and not to Scotland but Ireland, apparently permanently adopting the name John in the process. The question is why and for that we have no answer; at least not yet.
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