Sculpture of legend Robert unveiled

A STATUE of the late roadracing superstar Robert Dunlop was unveiled in Ballymoney on Friday.

The impressive bronze sculpture of Robert in his racing leathers - funded by charity donations from bike fans and the local community - has been hailed as the “important last piece in the jigsaw” of the memorial to the legendary Dunlop brothers.

Robert’s statue now stands in a dedicated remembrance garden, adjacent to the garden and statue of his brother Joey, which has already been visited by thousands of motorcycling fans from around the world.

Father-of-three Robert won a record 15 races at the North West 200, while Joey managed 13 first-place finishes at the Portrush showpiece.

Robert’s son Michael said the statue was a “fitting tribute” and completed the memorial.

“I suppose in a way this is the last piece in the jigsaw for the memorial to our father,” he said.

“It is an emotional occasion, but it also a fitting tribute to his achievements and it completes the memorial to both my father and Joey.”

Michael who - in his own right - has also become a household name in the road racing circuit, alongside his brother William, said he is constantly reminded of the legendary status of his father Robert and Joey.

“Being involved in bike racing you are always meeting people who ask about my father and Joey.

“But I have travelled to many countries, where some people don’t know anything about road-racing or motorbikes, yet they know about the Dunlop brothers.

“For some people they are to motorcycling, what George Best was to football, and that is something which makes us very proud.

“We are just happy that the memorials are now complete and people can now come and visit. The people who organised the fundraising for the statue and the sculptor deserve a lot of praise for what they have done,” he added.

William Dunlop who was unable to attend yesterday’s unveiling ceremony added: “The sculpture is brilliant, it is a real credit to the sculptor and I know the family is very happy with it.

“It is really good to see how much our father’s achievement meant to the people of Ballymoney, they have contributed so generously to rasing money for the statue.

“We also know how much effort Liam Beckett and many other people have made in raising money for this and they have done a wonderful job.”

The first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, were among the special guests who maintained a dignified silence in the Robert Dunlop Memorial Garden as Michael and Robert’s brother Jim took the wraps off the striking sculpture, which was painstakingly created by renowned Scottish sculptor David Annand.

Liam Beckett - who was Robert’s mechanic for more than 20 years - expressed his delight that the Dunlop brothers had been ‘reunited’ in the memorial gardens.

“There was definitely a few lumps in the throat, but it was just great to finally see Robert’s sculpture in place, it makes the memorials to the two brothers complete.”

Liam, who spearheaded the fundraising effort for the sculpture of the ‘Mighty Micro’, said he was overwhelmed by the generous response from the public.

“We never dreamt that we could raise the money in just a few months, but I suppose it shows just how much people thought of Robert and Joey, they appreciate that the Dunlop brothers put Ballymoney on the map.

“The gardens are a great place for the big motorcycling family to come and reminisce about the great times the Dunlops gave us.”

Speaking after the unveiling event Mayor Bill Kennedy said: “This was a proud, but highly emotional, day for the family as brother Jim and son Michael unveiled the statue of Robert which now has pride of place in the memorial garden, complementing the granite plaques provided by Council which record Robert’s many achievements.”

Mayor Kennedy also praised the family and the Sculpture Committee commenting: “I pay tribute to the family and the sculpture committee, headed by Liam Beckett, for their magnificent achievement in raising the funds to commission the statue”.