Tragic road racer William Dunlop has been hailed as a great sportsman who had a “smooth style on the track and a gracious and thoughtful manner off it”.
Thousands of mourners descended on the rural, narrow roads surrounding Garryduff Presbyterian Church in Co Antrim to bid a final farewell to the widely loved Ballymoney man, who made an indelible impact on the world of motorcycle racing.
The 32-year-old lost his life during a practice run at the Skerries 100 race in Co Dublin on Saturday.
Friends, fans, politicians and fellow racers packed into the small church to share in the Dunlop family’s grief, while thousands more lined the roads outside.
Among the mourners were DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, veteran sports broadcaster Jackie Fullerton, and DUP MLA Mervyn Storey.
Following a touching service, William was laid to rest in the adjoining churchyard, where his father Robert and uncle Joey – both champion road racers – are buried.
Robert died at the North West 200 in 2008, while Joey was killed in a crash in Estonia 2000.
Wednesday’s service was led by Rev John Kirkpatrick, who also officiated at the funerals of William’s father and uncle.
Rev Kirkpatrick, one of the chaplains to the Motorcycle Union of Ireland, said he counted it an honour to speak at the service.
He told mourners: “In preparing for today I have read and researched much about William’s life and career.
“As I listened I’ve heard about his thoughtfulness as a child, his strong bond with his brothers, his kindness to his mum and his deep devotion to his dad.
“I have witnessed the moving love between William and Janine and his delight as a father to Ella.”
Paying tribute to William’s distinguished racing career, which started when he was 17, Rev Kirkpatrick added: “He has been consistently competitive and an example of a great sportsman.
“His record of 108 national wins and 11 international wins speaks for itself. We have watched his smooth style on the track and his gracious and thoughtful manner off it.”
The Rev Kirkpatrick also reflected on having led Robert’s funeral at the same church.
He said: “Ten years ago here in this same church at Robert’s funeral I said ‘Not many people finish what they start, not all persevere in adversity or push themselves to their potential – this made Robert stand out from the crowd’.
“William watched and learned from Robert and his life developed those same qualities, and 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.”
Rev Kirkpatrick said he had three families in mind during yesterday’s service; William’s partner and young daughter, his mother and brothers, and the ‘racing family’.
He added: “Many wonderful tributes have already been paid to William, no one tribute or indeed all together will suffice. There are as many stories and memories as there are people here, as we share them and treasure them, we celebrate the full and meaningful life William lived, and we enable his story to be told.”
He said he had pondered what William might have said if he could.
Rev Kirkpatrick added: “To his fans and supporters – you were kind to me and stayed with me over the years, you waved your programmes, and you didn’t walk away.
“Across the small country roads and the sweeping corners of international races over the world I saw you.
“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.”
The final words of Rev Kirkpatrick’s address were for Janine, who is expecting her second child.
“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,” he said.
After pulling out of this year’s Isle of Man TT for family reasons, William issued a statement which appeared to suggest he was considering his future in the sport.
“I have a few weeks to rest my body and recover from NW200 crash and also think about my future, I will sit with my sponsors in time and see where we all stand,” the statement said.
William had taken the decision to withdraw from the 2018 TT in order to return home to support his pregnant partner, who had received some worrying news following a scan.
“My head wasn’t in the races and my thoughts were always at what was happening at home. My family will always come first so I made the decision to come home,” William said.
He went on to say how they’d since received positive news and were excited about the new addition to their family – one he sadly never got the chance to meet.