The Freedom of Ballymoney means more to the Borough’s newest recipient, Michael Dunlop, than any of his outstanding Isle of Man TT victories.
Speaking at a reception in the Town Hall on Friday after becoming the third member of the Dunlop family to have the Freedom bestowed on them, Michael said the honour was “massive.”
“This is the biggest honour I have ever got and it means more than any of my TT victories. I never thought I would be following in the footsteps of my uncle Joey or my father. It is fantastic for me that the Borough appreciates all I have done,” he said.
Michael told the gathering that he was glad his sponsors, who had become friends, and his family were present.
“They have always been behind me,” he added before proposing a toast to the Borough.
The ceremony, while conducted in the usual dignified manner as befits the occasion, had a relaxed feel about it with Michael and his family including his mother, Louise and brother, William, receiving warm congratulations from the guests.
These included Aldermen and Councillors, North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley Junior, Mervyn Storey, MLA, the Clerk of the North West, Mervyn Whyte, the Mayor of the Isle of Man, Carol Malarkey, and the Bikers’ Chaplain, Rev John Kirkpatrick.
Representatives of the PSNI, British Legion, Fire Service, TA, were also in attendance along with officials from neighbouring councils and Mrs Molly Holmes, the first person to be awarded the Freedom.
Michael becomes the ninth recipient of the award. The first was the Royal Ulster Constabulary and The RUC Reserve in 1983 followed by Mrs Holmes in 1986. Joey Dunlop received the honour in 1993 followed by the Royal British Legion in 1997.
The Rev. Ian Paisley was the next recipient in 2000 and Robert Dunlop was given the honour in 2007.
There were two freedom ceremonies in 2012 – the Royal Irish Regiment and the 153 (Ulster) Transport Regiment of the Royal Logistics Corps of the Territorial Army.
Alderman Bill Kennedy who proposed the Freedom accolade on October 7, 2013, said the official programme had recorded the fact that Michael had begun racing at 17, but he felt it was more like 14 years of age.
He said fans loved to see Michael racing. He was a great crowd pleaser and a thrill to watch.
“His skills are evident in his races and his dedication and the success he has brought to the sport is continuing the Dunlop tradition,” Alderman Kennedy added.
Mervyn White said Michael was one of the best road racers the country had ever produced and there was a lot more to come.
“What he has achieved has been remarkable and this honour is well deserved,” he added.
The Mayor, Councillor John Finlay, said Michael had brought great honour to the Borough through his exceptional skill and ability as well as a determined attitude.
The Mayor added: “Your skill, courage and competitive spirit has in no small measure brought you to the top of one of the most competitive sports. You are an inspiration and a great ambassador for the Borough.”