At the foot of Ballymoney’s Main Street stands a statue of the town’s most famous son. Cast in bronze, Joey Dunlop straddles his beloved Honda motorbike, arms folded with a contented smile on his face.
The modest King of the Roads is immortalised forever in the town that loved him most.
And like ‘Yer Maun’ himself, the inscription which reads ‘Husband, father, son, brother, friend and gentleman who became one of motorcycle racing’s greatest ambassadors’ is plain but powerful.
The statue takes pride of place in a memorial garden that was opened in 2001 — the same year the town’s leisure centre changed its name in honour of the world famous sportsman who never forgot his north Antrim roots.
Ballymoney is deeply proud of Joey Dunlop and ‘the toon’ wants everyone to know it.
Just down the hill from the memorial garden lies Joey’s Bar — a shrine to the much-lamented hero where dozens of framed photographs adorn the walls and his trademark yellow crash helmet sits on the top shelf overlooking the bar the racing ace and his wife bought in 1984.
The former Railway Tavern, was re-named soon after Joey was killed.
In July 2000 Bill Kennedy had only been mayor for a few weeks. Ten years down the line, Mr Kennedy has been re-elected as first citizen again and remembers the day he heard the dreadful news “as if it was yesterday”.
“It’s one of those pieces of news that you hear but don’t want to believe. I remember it was Drumcree Sunday but all the television crews suddenly descended on Ballymoney,” he said.
“It had a tremendous impact on the whole community. It was a great loss — he was a Freeman of the Borough and is still the most popular name in sport in Ballymoney. It was an awful shock and a tremendous tragedy at that time.
“But Joey Dunlop has never been forgotten and everyone realises there will never be another.”
Ballymoney Times editor Lyle McMullan reiterated the mayor’s sentiments.
“Joey has always had a special place in the hearts of Ballymoney people and beyond not only for his achievements but because of the nature of the man,” he said.
“Joey’s name is always to the fore of people’s minds and they don’t need a 10th anniversary to remind them of the tragedy.”