By Claire Smith
HUNDREDS of bikers flocked to Ballymoney to pay tribute to racing legend Joey Dunlop as news of last Thursday’s vandalism spread.
En-route to the North West 200, motorbike enthusiasts stopped off to see the marble plaque after vandals smashed it with a heavy instrument believed to be a ‘sledgehammer’.
The usual Joey’s Bar, Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden and the current exhibition at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre were all stop off points on the bikers’ annual pilgrimage.
However when visiting the memorial garden people wept openly as they looked at the destroyed tribute to the modest 13 times North West 200 winner.
One of Joey's relatives, Johnnie Dunlop, stood in shock as he took in the scene.
"There is real anger about what has happened here. This is a total disgrace, I can't understand why anyone would do this," said Johnnie.
Another woman took out a handkerchief and polished the statue of Ballymoney's most famous son as bikers from across Europe sat in the garden.
"Joey was an amazing man and so unassuming, it is shocking that anyone would do this," said an English biker.
One couple, Paul and Sophie, who had travelled from Cambridge were visiting the Memorial Garden after viewing the exhibition.
"I really can’t believe someone could do such a thing," said Sophie.
"We have read what happened in the local newspapers and seen it on the television. It’s terrible to think people can be so cruel."
Paul continued: "The last time we were at the North West was in 1995. It is the best road racing in the world.
"The exhibition at the Leisure Centre was excellent and gave such a true representation of Joey.
"Ballymoney is a great place. It always tries to keep Joey’s memory alive, he was so well loved. The news of this disgusting attack, is sickening. Everyone we meet is talking about it.
"It really gives Ballymoney and Northern Ireland a bad image which is a real shame."
Keith from Preston explained: "Words can’t express what it means to me to visit the NW200 every year. It’s superb and overwhelming.
"I always make a point of calling into Joey’s Bar and have a pint in his memory. He gave so much pleasure to millions. He was such a fantastic man.
"The news of the vandalism is totally beyond comprehension. Why would someone want to damage such an important part of the NW200. Joey and his garden are always stop off points for visiting bikers and this year it has put a real dampener on the whole event."
Biker Gareth was among a team of 24 who had came all the way from Angelsea in North Wales to pay tribute to the man he calls "God."
He said: "It is like a pilgrimage for me. I followed Joey Dunlop since he started racing in the late ‘70’s early ‘80’s and I was knocked for six when I heard of his untimely death.
"This memorial here and the way everyone still flocks to pay him homage is only what he deserves. However for people to destroy and try to take it away from the local people and bikers is terrible, absolutely shocking."
Workers from Ballymoney Council worked quickly to minimise the damage.