Armoy Road Races chief angry after Tourism NI's funding snub
Armoy Road Races founding father and driving force Bill Kennedy has hit out on the eve of this year's 10th anniversary event at a funding refusal from Tourism NI.
Clerk of the course Kennedy has now been forced to make an appeal for public support for this week's races in the north Antrim village, commemorating the late 1970s exploits of the legendary Armoy Armada that launched local hero Joey Dunlop on his stellar racing career.
Kennedy's late brother Frank was also part of the racing Armada that also included Joey's brother, Jim, and their late brother in law, Mervyn Robinson.
William Dunlop, who tragically lost his life at the Skerries Road Races earlier this month, was a founder member of his local Armoy club and was due to race there this week.
Disappointed by the lack of Tourism NI support, Kennedy remains determined to stage a memorable weekend's racing with a top-class line-up of riders taking to the grid on Friday and Saturday.
"This year we need all the support we can get, as a result of the loss of the Tourism NI funding we previously received," he said.
"I'm thankful to our many local businesses and sponsors, those sponsoring the races, those even taking out an advert in the programme or sponsoring a safety bale, but every person coming to the event, buying a programme and parking in the official car parks will mean that little more this year.
"So please come along, donate or buy our programme."
Referring to the failed funding application, he added: "We did receive feedback on our application and basically we were told it didn't meet one or two aspects of the criteria. I find it hard to believe given we've been involved in submitting applications successfully prior to this year, our 10th anniversary.
"The club and I are deeply disappointed, more so now, as this week I've met people in Armoy from Scotland, the Republic, England and Wales. We even know of one man who has travelled from Hong Kong and another from Norway. This is a global event and is attracting people from near and far.
"It is also clear to me that Armoy Road Races, an annual event, has people coming for the whole week of activities throughout Bike Week and staying and spending locally.
"It would seem that other one-off events are getting by far a larger share of the funding available and it is unacceptable.
"I look forward to re-engaging with TNI in 2019 and hopefully gaining a better understanding of how a well-attended annual event, like the Armoy Road Races, can be better supported at a local tourism level."
Earlier this year, neighbouring North West 200 chief Mervyn Whyte also hit out at the absence of Tourism NI personnel at his event on Race Day, despite researched figures showing the event's £9.8m worth to the local economy.
Whyte drily observed: "It is particularly disappointing that no one from the top brass of the main tourism promotion organisation attended our event. There was no goodwill message, not even a phone call.
"Causeway Coast and Glens council invited senior figures from the Tourist Board to Saturday's hospitality event, but they did not attend.
"Tourism NI need to wake up to the value of the North West to the tourism economy, year in and out. They are paying lip service to the North West, yet this time next year they will be flocking to The Open golf at Royal Portrush in their droves."
Born from an initial idea by the locals in 2007, the Armoy Road Races has continued to grow from strength to strength, now positioning itself as one of the biggest national road races in Ireland, welcoming an increasing number of spectators and bike enthusiasts each year.
Bill Kennedy added: "Each year all of our members work tirelessly to ensure that every Race of Legends is bigger and better than the previous year, and for that I am thankful to them.
"As a non-profit organisation, the races are driven by our dedicated volunteers and support from the local community and sponsors.
"If we lose one link in that chain then it can be difficult to rally round, but we as a club have achieved so much over the last number of years and I look back and take pride in the fact that we have built a community from scratch, and we are determined to keep going.
"I am extremely grateful to all of our sponsors as well for giving us the financial stability to celebrate our 10th year. To the Bayview Hotel, Tourism Ireland and the Causeway Coast and Glens in particular, I thank you."
Armoy Bike Week runs until Saturday when the feature Bayview Hotel Race of Legends takes centre stage.
Roads surrounding Armoy will close on Friday to allow for qualifying and practice from 12.30pm, reopening no later than 9.30pm. On Saturday, roads will close from 10am and reopen no later than 7.30pm.