William Dunlop pursued his passion, funeral of motorcycle racer told

Third member of family killed in motorcycle racing laid to rest in Ballymoney, Co Antrim

The Rev John Kirkpatrick loves motorcycles. For 25 years he has been chaplain to the Motorcycle Union of Ireland, often riding motorcycles around racing circuits at speeds of more than 100mph.

Yesterday, Mr Kirkpatrick led the funeral service for yet another fallen biker, William Dunlop, in Garryduff Presbyterian Church just outside Ballymoney in Co Antrim.

There, he remembered that he had officiated at the funeral of Dunlop's father, Robert and his uncle Joey – two genuine road-racing legends in Northern Ireland, where bike racing is loved.

Robert Dunlop was killed in the North West 200 in 2008, and Joey died in a crash in Estonia in 2000: now a third Dunlop was to be buried in the small cemetery adjoining the church. How could a family take such grief?


Full life

Mr Kirkpatrick recalled Robert’s funeral 10 years ago and how William had earlier chosen to follow his father’s path: “William watched and learned from Robert. Although his life has been shorter than many and certainly shorter than we hoped, the one he chose to live was not dull but full.”

Such words might not be understood by those outside the motorcycling world, but Mr Kirkpatrick knew they would be by the scores of bikers from all over Ireland who had travelled to Ballymoney.

Inside the country church were William’s partner Janine, who is mother of their young daughter Ella, and who is expecting a second child in September; his mother, Louise; and his grandmother, May, mother of Joey and Robert.

Also present were his brothers Daniel and another racing great, Michael, and the wider Dunlop family.

William (32) was killed during a practice run near Skerries, Co Dublin, on Saturday. Michael, who also was competing in the Skerries 100, was riding behind him when the accident happened.

William was injured in the North West 200 race in May and was forced to pull out of the Isle of Man TT races in June. Afterwards, he hinted that he was thinking of giving up, particularly after Janine suffered some pregnancy complications, which she subsequently overcame.

Then, he had said: “My family always come first.”

Mr Kirkpatrick did not dwell, however, on the dangers of racing. Later, he tried to explain to reporters why so many riders risked their lives and the heartache of their families because of their love of racing.

And it is a cruel sport. Since 1911 close to 260 riders have died in the Isle of Man TT races, eight of them Irish riders. More than 120 people have died racing in Ireland.

His heartbroken family feel no sense of recrimination against William, Joey and Robert for persevering with the sport they loved, he told reporters outside.

“If you live with someone that is racing you have got to find your way to [understand their passion],” he said. “When you love somebody you kind of like to set them free, don’t you?”


Mr Kirkpatrick has loved motorbikes for five decades, starting in his native Co Derry when he was 12. He rides a CR93 replica Honda 160cc bike. As an MCUI chaplain he is sometimes allowed to ride a few practice laps at Irish circuits.

He understands the addiction. “If you are competitive and you like racing and engines and speed you are someone who is wired up that way. Some people like one sport and some people another,” he said.

He added: “Only if you have raced competitively do you really understand. People ask questions: ‘Why would you climb K2 when people who climb the mountain know that out of every three climbers only two will come back?’ People say: ‘Why would you do that?’ And climbers say: ‘Come climb with me.’

“Only people who have done it fully comprehend and it is people who have never done it who want to ban it.”

Comforting the bereaved, Mr Kirkpatrick pondered what William Dunlop might say to those inside and outside the church, if he had had the chance.

To his fans and supporters he might say: “You were kind to me and stayed with me over the years, you waved your programmes and you didn’t walk away.

“To his family: ‘You are the big part of the person I became. You accepted me, listened to me, gave me space to be me, loved me, laughed with me.

“To his mother: ‘You brought me into the world and cared for me, nurtured my life, watched me grow, set me an example, put kindness in me.

“To his brothers: ‘You were also my friends, you were there for me, you have not let me down, you have the stories few people know. Remember our happy times together.’

“To Janine and Ella: ‘You were my true chequered flag, you, the home of my heart. When I held you, Ella, for the first time, it was the beginning of new love. You made being a father the best of all podiums. When anyone sees you they will see me.’”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times