Belfast Telegraph

William Dunlop: Tears and tributes as fans and friends pay homage to 'gentleman' and 'legend'

By Laurence White

As the remains of tragic motorcycle racer William Dunlop were taken to his mother's home outside Ballymoney, Victor Gibson sat near to tears in the Dunlop Memorial Garden in the north Antrim town.

Although Louise Dunlop had opened up her Gracehill Road home to friends and fans wishing to pay their respects to her 32-year-old son, who was killed during practice for a race at the Skerries circuit near Dublin on Saturday, Victor had decided to spend some time in the garden instead.

The Clough man is more than a fan of William, his father Robert and uncle Joey - now all dead after racing accidents.

"I've known the Dunlops since I was that high," he says holding his hand a couple of feet off the ground.

"I acted as marshal for them at races in later years. In my youth I was a big fan of the Dromara Destroyers - Trevor Steele, Ian McGregor, Ray McCullough and Brian Reid - all legendary racers from the 1980s.

"And, of course, I knew Joey and Robert and followed them as well. And then later I got to know William. I have all his replica racing gear and I will wear it tomorrow at the funeral.

"William was a great lad. I was able to speak to him many times and he was a really nice person. William would go out of his way to allow a fan to get a photograph taken with him or to give someone an autograph. Indeed, the whole family were like that."

Victor is visibly upset at the latest death. "I still haven't got over it since I heard about it on Saturday. I have been down at this garden many times, as I don't live that far away, and I just had to come back today to pay my respects."

He adds: "The Dunlops just wanted to do what they enjoyed doing. We all thought they were brilliant racers, but they just regarded it as their job and never got big-headed about their accomplishments."

As he spoke, friends and fans had gathered at the Dunlop home to pay respects to William. His remains had been taken up from Dublin to James Mullan & Son, undertakers in High Street, Ballymoney, just a short distance from the memorial garden, in mid-afternoon and then transferred to a hearse for the journey to his mother's home.

Although Louise had opened her house to friends and fans, the family were adamant that the media should keep its distance and be as unobtrusive as possible.

We were asked not to enter the lane leading to the house or even an adjoining field where those attending the wake parked their vehicles.

A particular request was made that no photographs should be taken of William's partner Janine, who is expecting their second child. They had a two-year-old daughter, Ella. In the event she stayed indoors when the hearse drew up outside and was wheeled into the house by the undertakers and William's brother Daniel.

The remains of William Dunlop are returned to the family home outside Ballymoney
The remains of William Dunlop are returned to the family home outside Ballymoney
William’s brother Daniel at the family home
Some of the tributes to William Dunlop
Victor Gibson and Pamela Anderson
William Dunlop

While the family made it clear that they wanted as little media intrusion as possible, the auld decency of families in such circumstances emerged when Louise sent out two platters of sandwiches to the four journalists and photographers gathered on the roadside. It was a muted homecoming for a legendary racer, but today's funeral promises to be a much more public affair. The funeral service will be held at Garryduff Presbyterian Church, the same church from where the funerals of William's father Robert and uncle Joey took place.

One of the many bikers who will be there is Adam Carroll from Holywood.

Yesterday he recalled how his friendship with Joey Dunlop's son and daughter, Gary and Joanne, led to him meeting William and become friendly with him.

"I used to come up to Joey's Bar and I remember one night being there with William. He was a massive fan of Tottenham Hotspur and that year they had qualified for the following season's Champions League competition," he says.

"On that night Chelsea were playing in the final of the Champions League and won it, and that put Spurs out of the competition the following year because England was only allowed four teams in the competition.

"William was gutted, and I remember he ordered a whole host of shots and decided to get drunk.

"In later years we used to go to the same gym in Belfast and train together.

"I still cannot get over his death. It is just devastating. I cried all day Sunday. He was a man who would go out of his way for everyone, just like Joey."

Victor also recalled William's great interest in football. "Indeed, he used to talk as much about football as about bikes, maybe even more. He played for the local soccer team, Clough Rangers, in the village where I live and many of the players will be at his funeral tomorrow. They all loved him."

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 23/8/2017: William Dunlop on the start line for practice at the Classic TT.
PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 23/8/2017: William Dunlop on the start line for practice at the Classic TT. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
William Dunlop racing during practice at Skerries today. Pacemaker
William Dunlop racing during practice at Skerries today. PACEMAKEER BELFAST 07/07/2018
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 7/7/2018: William Dunlop in action on the Temple Golf Club Yamaha during practice for the Skerries 100 today. William died in crash during the session. PICTURE BY DEREK WILSON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 7/7/2018: Gardai at the scene where William Dunlop suffered a fatal crash during practice for the Skerries 100 today.
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 9th May 2017 Vauxhall International North West 200 practice sessions. Pictured: Paul Jordan and William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Northern Ireland- 13th August 2014 Mandatory Credit - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com William Dunlop in action on board his superbike at practice for the Dundrod 150 and Ulster Grand Prix road races.
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 2010: Michael and William Dunlop in their father Robert's Memorial Garden in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 20/3/2017: William Dunlop with his Caffrey International R6 Yamaha he will race in the Supersport class in 2017. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 25/8/2017: Michael and William Dunlop at Classic TT practice tonight. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 17/5/2014: William Dunlop celebrates after winning the opening Superbike race at the Vauxhall International North West 200. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
William Dunlop and his partner Janine arrive at the Adelaide Motorcycle Awards in Belfast in 2014. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 17/1/2014.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 03/06/13: Brothers Michael (MD Racing Honda) and William Dunlop (Milwaukee Yamaha) in the winners enclosure after finishing first and third in the opening Monster Energy supersport race on his MD Racing Honda at the 2013 Isle of Man TT PHOTO BY STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 23/1/2015: That's my boy! William Dunlop, winner of the Race of the Year category at the Adelaide Motorbike awards with his mother Louise. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
William Dunlop at the Armoy Road Races in 2016. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th April 2017 Cookstown 100 Road Races. Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 1/5/2015: William Dunlop during Tandragee 100 practice. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST 12/05/2015 William Dunlop (Tyco BMW Motorrad Racing) during Tuesday's practice for the North West 200 Road races. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 24/7/2015: William Dunlop (CD Racing Yamaha) celebrates winning the opening 600cc race at the Armoy road races on Friday evening. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2017 Isle of Man TT Practice Week Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Mandatory Credit: Rowland White / PressEye Motor Cycling: Tandragee 100 Venue: Tandragee Date: 1st May 2015 Caption: William Dunlop
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 10th August 2016 Practice sessions for the Plant Lubrication Dundrod 150 and the MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix get underway. Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th May 2017 Vauxhall International North West 200 Pictured: William Dunlop with fans. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 07th June 2017 Isle of Man TT RL360 Quantum Superstock Race Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 10th August 2017 Dundrod 150 Gym Co Ultralightweight / Lightweight Race Pictured: Paul Jordan and William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th August 2017 Ulster Grand Prix & Dundrod 150 Practice Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Mandatory Credit: Rowland White PressEye Road Racing: Cooktown 100 Venue: Orritor Date: 30th April 2016 Race: Supersport 2 Caption: William Dunlop celebrates
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 3rd June 2013 Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ Presseye William Dunlop (Milwaukee Yamaha) at Creg-Ny-Baa during Monday's Royan London 360 Superstock Race over the Mountain Course during the IOM TT 2013.
Northern Ireland- 13th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. William Dunlop Tyco.
©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland 26th April 2013 - Mandatory Credit - Picture by Matt Mackey/presseye.com Cookstown 100 road races practice evening. Ballymoney rider William Dunlop.
PACEMAKER BELFAST, 9/5/2006: Robert Dunlop is the most successful rider in the history of the North West 200 with 14 wins and as he goes for win 15 in 2006 he will have strong competition from his own sons Michael and William. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST,2007: The Dunlop family enjoyed a winning day at teh Mid Antrim 150 with Michael, Dad Robert and William all winning a race apiece. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 2008: Robert Dunlop and his three sons Daniel, Michael and William. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Biker Raymond Campbell, who lives near Kilrea, is also hoping to attend the funeral today, even though he was working last night.

"I went down to the memorial garden as a way of remembering William. I have been here many times before and I also went to Joey's funeral. I will certainly go to the church tomorrow for the service for William.

"It is terrible what has happened to this family. Three of them dead. It is hard to believe that such tragedy could follow one family so closely. And Joey's brother-in-law Mervyn Robinson was also killed in a racing crash.

A book of condolence - one of several around the province - has been opened in Ballymoney Town Hall by mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Brenda Chivers.

She said: "The entire borough has been left shocked and saddened with the tragic events that unfolded at the weekend. I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to the entire Dunlop family at this very sad time. William was a fantastic sporting legend and he will be remembered for his many achievements."

Among the many entries, the words "true gentleman" and "biking legend" are repeated over and over.

One couple recalled meeting William at the North West 200 races earlier this year and enthused about how he had spent time talking to them and making them feel welcome.

Another entry described him "as the nicest sportsman I have ever met".

The book of condolence sits alongside the North West 200 museum in the town hall which naturally contains many references to the Dunlop family. One rack of sporting fleeces bear the logo of the Armoy Road Races, an event held on the roads where Joey and Robert honed their racing craft in the days before they became legends.

Visitors can buy postcards, magnets, pins and other assorted mementoes in the museum.

From the front door of the town hall, the undertakers, where William was brought, is clearly visible across the street. The arrival of his remains brought a chilling dose of reality to the glamour and excitement of road racing.

Three of the finest riders ever to race on Ulster's roads - all members of the one extended family and all local men - gave their lives to the sport. Today, family, friends and fans will gather to pay their last respects to one of those men.

Belfast Telegraph

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