Motorcycle racer Michael Dunlop is youngest ever recipient of ‘Freedom of Ballymoney’ award

HE'S JUST GRAN. Michael Dunlop pictured with his granny May Dunlop on Friday at the Town Hall. Picture by Sammy McMullan.INBM4-14 038SC.

HE'S JUST GRAN. Michael Dunlop pictured with his granny May Dunlop on Friday at the Town Hall. Picture by Sammy McMullan.INBM4-14 038SC.

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Michael Dunlop’s popularity in road racing circles is not in question.

At meetings across Ireland and on the Isle of Man, the 24-year-old generates passion and expectation amongst his countless fans.

Thousands come to watch a rider who doesn’t know the meaning of fear and who can excite like no other.

The Armoy Road Races are a good example of how his adoring fans turn out in their thousands to cheer him on.

Perhaps it is because he’s racing in the village where his uncle Joey honed his skills or simply that wherever he goes his goal is to win, the name Michael Dunlop says it all.

Bill Kennedy, Clerk of the Course at Armoy, says the Armoy Road Races wouldn’t be the same without Michael and his brother William.

“The two boys play a key part in making our road races what they are - a big attraction for his fans.

“We certainly welcome and respect all the other riders who join us in July for the event but there is no doubt that the local boys hold all the aces,” Bill told the Times.

The programme specially produced for the Freedom Ceremony at the Town Hall last Friday, provided ample evidence of how Michael Dunlop has established himself as one of the best riders there is - and he’s still only 24 years old.

Bill Kennedy, himself a former rider, says Michael started riding at 14years of age and quickly made a name for himself.

He quoted a former Ballymoney Borough Council employee, who, on seeing the young Dunlop on a bike, suggested he was far too young to be a racer.

Mr Kennedy said Michael’s achievements were there for all to see.

“I was a great fan of Robert Dunlop and of Joey as well.

“They were all crowd pleasers and Michael is no exception.

“He is a thrill to watch and hi skills are evident in his races,” he added.

Michael’s first win was at the Cookstown 100 in 2005 in the 125cc.

Whatever class he has competed in from 125cc to 1000cc super bike machines, Michael has performed to the highest standard winning manay Irish and Ulster championships along the way.

At International level his achievements include his first win at the NW200 in 2008 when he was only 20, a tremendous achivement given that if followed the tragic death of his father, Robert, during practice for thet event.

Michael has also achieved success at the Ulster Grand Prix winning a total of six races to date.

Most recently , he won the 2013 International Gold Cup at Scarborough and became only the second Ulsterman and the first Dunlop to have accomplished this.

Michael’s victories on the Isle of Man have been exceptional in all classes and include 14 wins at the Billown circuit at the Southern 100 road races and at the TT course with a total of seven TT wins, four of which were achieved in one week in June 2013 riding for the Honda TT Legends Racing Team.

An article in the programme stated: ‘Without a doubt Michael has continued in true Dunlop tradition with his exceptional skill and ability clear for all to see.

‘His determination to succeed is evident in the scores of his racing achievements to date.’

At the Freedom ceremony Bill Kennedy quipped that Michael could well find a job in politics such was the impact of his speech on receiving the award.

In addition to the framed certificate Michael was also presented with a painting by the Mayor, Councillor John Finlay, of Dunluce Castle painted by locally renowned artist Adrian Margey.

Gifts were also handed out to Mr Kennedy and to Mervyn White, Clerk of the Course at the North West 200.

Meanwhile, North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey has saluted Ulster road racing star Michael Dunlop for becoming the third member of the legendary motorcycling family to receive the Freedom of Ballymoney.

In a statement, Mr Storey who was present at the dceremony, said: “Michael was granted the honour by the Mayor, Councillor John Finlay, during a ceremony attended by his family, including mum Louise, grandmother May and brother William, plus distinguished guests, friends, sponsors and dignitaries.

“This is a most commendable accolade for a local Ballymoney man.

“Michael deserves this recognition for his stunning achievements in his beloved sport.

“He follows in the footsteps of his dad, Robert, and uncle Joey – two internationally renowned sporting greats from our town.”

“The Dunlop name is so proudly associated with Ballymoney and Northern Ireland. Today we take great pleasure in bestowing the highest civic honour on Michael Dunlop. He has done the people of Ballymoney Borough proud. We wish him continuing success.”

North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley Junior, also added his congratulations and said he and Michael had something common in that both their fathers had received the same honour.