Shards of sunlight streamed down on Ballymoney yesterday as tears streamed down the faces of hundreds of people who flocked to the town to pay tribute to Joey Dunlop, King of the Roads, on the 10th anniversary of his death.
His name is everywhere: Joey’s Bar, formerly the Railway Tavern, is full of his motorcycle memorabilia and was transformed into a veritable shrine after his passing, with his yellow helmet sitting above the bar and a bike suspended from the ceiling.
Not far away is the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre, and in the centre of town lies his memorial garden featuring a bronze statue of the hero, along with pillars inscribed with his many wins, and a plaque dedicated to his brother Robert who died in a crash in 2008.
Flowers and mementoes are often laid there, but this week has seen a deluge of tributes from all over the world.
Yesterday hundreds of people, including Dunlop family members, friends and well-known faces from the motorcycle fraternity, attended a thanksgiving service at nearby Garryduff Presbyterian Church, where a decade ago more than 50,000 people turned out to pay their respects following his death.
The service, organised by Joey’s widow Linda, was aimed at saying ‘thank you’ to the those who have supported the family since his passing.
Linda and their five children Julie, Donna, Gary, Richard and Joanne attended, as well as their grandchildren and Robert’s widow Louise and her road racing sons Michael and William.
Joey’s beloved mum Mary was also in the congregation.
The location was a poignant one. It was where Joey was baptised, celebrated his wedding anniversary, and was laid to rest in the adjoining churchyard.
His grandchildren Caitlin and Kayley read a poem describing their grandad as a “star in heaven’’.
Afterwards relatives released white balloons in his honour and stood at his grave in reflection.
Ballymoney Mayor Bill Kennedy said Joey was not just an icon in Ballymoney, but “on the island of Ireland and worldwide”, while ex-world champion Brian Reid said he “couldn’t believe it was 10 years” since his pal died.
Following a day of celebration of the life of one of Northern Ireland’s most loved sons, Joey’s daughter Donna McClean thanked fans for their well wishes and said the family had enjoyed “a lovely day”.