William Dunlop: Ballymoney shaken to the core once again... the Dunlops are town's idols
The streets of Ballymoney echoed to the sound of motorcycle engines yesterday as bikers from across Northern Ireland made a pilgrimage to the Co Antrim town to pay tribute to tragic William Dunlop.
The town, and in particular the Joey and Robert Dunlop Memorial Garden, adorned by statues of its famous road racing sons, became a focal point for mourners to express their grief.
Throughout the day a steady stream of visitors filed through, many bearing flowers which they laid at the feet of the statue of William's late father Robert.
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Leather-clad bikers were joined by young families, elderly couples and others who simply wanted to show their solidarity with the Dunlop family.
Carrickfergus couple Graham (45) and Pamela (43) Marshall were there with 10-year-old son Dylan, who buried his head in his hands as he approached the statue.
"The Dunlop family are synonymous with road racing in Northern Ireland and worldwide," said biker Graham.
"I don't think any family has ever seen such highs and lows of both sides of the sport, and the news about William is just devastating. He was a quiet fella, he went about his racing, did well, didn't make a lot of noise. Just a humble, decent lad - the whole family were heroes.
"Road racing is a family in itself, and they all feel the loss.
"I remember when I heard the news about Joey, it was probably my generation's version of JFK - you know exactly where you were when you heard it.
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"And we were at the North West 200 on the evening Robert lost his life as well.
"Road racing's a way of life for these guys. They live and breathe road racing seven days a week, 12 months a year.
"It's a vocation, it's a lifestyle, it's all-consuming.
"Those guys understand the sport, they understand the highs of it, they understand the lows of it.
"They love it, it's their passion. I would have thought the Dunlop family will be feeling numb.
"That family's lost more than most people would ever have cared to even think about.
"It's the Dunlop dynasty, and it's sad that there's only one left racing.
"Michael is the last one to carry the legacy.
"A statue of William beside his father, and something marking his on-road success, would be very fitting."
Ballymoney woman Mandy Graham (49), who worked in Joey's Bar for a decade and knows the Dunlop family, said she was "gutted".
"I know them all. My mum used to go out to the races with Robert and Joey," she explained.
"She loved the racing and she's in pieces.
"William was more like Joey, he was that quiet, whereas Michael would have been more like Robert.
"I'm shocked, gutted. I never thought it would have happened to him.
"He was responsible, he had a child coming and so much in life to look forward to.
"I would say the whole Dunlop family circle is totally gutted. Racing is in all the Dunlops' blood. I was working at Joey's Bar when Joey died, it was unbelievable.
"They were a close family. To this day I still wonder how families like that keep going. Louise had lost her husband Robert, now she's lost her first son.
"William has died only 10 years after his father.
"It has shaken Ballymoney once again. They are this town's idols.
"I only support locals, and there aren't many left now to support." Bikers Stephen Johnston, Adrian Bradley (26), Lewis Agbodo (30), Grant Buchanan (26) and Scott Dunsmore (25) had travelled from Lisburn, Belfast, Newtownards and Bangor to visit Joey's Bar and the memorial garden.
"It was devastating to hear that William had passed away, the family have been through so much, and for them to lose another son is horrible," said Stephen. "It's horrible for the road racing community."
"The motorcycling community is the biggest family in Ireland," added Grant.
"Today and over the next couple of weeks a lot of people will be coming here to pay their respects."
Ballymoney bikers John Fullerton (51), Chris Davidson (33) and Mark Morrison (36), said the death "would hit the family hard".
"They're bikers through and through and that's it," said Mark.
"That's all they know and that's all they want to know."
Chris added that he would like to see a statue of William erected in the memorial garden.
"He's definitely earned a place here," he said.
"This garden shows how much they're thought of.
"A humble family from Ballymoney has one of the best records in motorcycle racing in the world.
"They're very down-to-earth as well.
"The motorcycling community in Northern Ireland is close-knit and it will get behind them."
Pensioners Ian Kee (75) and his wife Jean from Douglas Bridge, Co Tyrone, said they were "heartbroken".
"I always followed the Dunlops," said Jean. "I just cannot take it in.
"When I heard about William's death I just broke down. It is a big tragedy, especially for this area.
"They were great ambassadors - even people who didn't like racing still knew them."
Yesterday afternoon Crossan Motorcycles Ltd's Adrian Fegan, whose bikes were ridden by Michael and Robert, set up a Crowdfunding page to support William's partner Janine, their daughter Ella and unborn child.
The page - www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/williamdunlop - had raised almost £4,000 at the time of going to press.