- a short Biography
You would need to write a book about
Joey's biography, so we've chosen one chapter from his Authorised
Biography by Mac McDiarmid called "Windmills and Drainpipes"
(used with the permission of Mac and Haynes Publishing).......
Windmills and Drainpipes
If there were any certainties about the future life of
the young William Joseph, one was that somehow or other
it would involve messing about with engines. His father,
Willie, was a motor mechanic by trade and a practical if
unconventional fixer by temperament. In the days before
mains electricity was universal, he had once provided the
family home with power by rigging a home-made windmill 65
‘very scary’ feet up in a nearby tree. When
the North Antrim wind blew, the windmill turned the generator
below and the Dunlop home glowed. It was Joe’s job
every night to check the batteries and if they were low,
start up the generator. So it could be said that as far
as motive power was concerned, Joe’s first works contract
was with the Almighty.
The future King of the Roads was born at 8.00am
on 25 February 1952, possibly the one prompt Monday morning
arrival of his life. Home at the time was a humble cottage
without running water at Unchanaugh, a mile or so from the
village of Dunloy. He weighed a healthy 7lb. Willie and
May Dunlop would have seven children in all – four
girls and three boys – of whom Joey was the eldest
boy, two and a half years younger than big sister Helen.
They were followed by Jim, Virginia and Linda. The last
two children were twins, Robert and Margaret, although one
even younger child died of cot death aged six months. "The
wife did most of the bringing up", admitted Willie
over a jar in the Ballymoney bar named after his son. "I
was busy earning money, and not much of that. We weren’t
the poorest family in the country, but not far off."
They were hard times. Post-war rationing was still in force,
and even for more affluent families, luxuries were scarce.
As the windmill tale suggests, it was a time of improvisation
and making the best of things. Perhaps spurred by necessity,
Joey seems to have inherited his father’s instinctive
talent with machinery. The familiar name, however, came
much later. "All our children are known by their middle
name," explains Willie. "Joey is William Joseph
and Robert is Steven Robert. He was named after his Uncle
Joe and when he was at school he insisted on that. He hated
being called Joey. Wouldn’t have it at all."
Those who knew him best speak of the young Joe’s
even, somewhat reserved temperament and the same stubborn
determination which would mark his race career. "‘I
only had to go to school because of him once," remembers
May, "when he knocked a tin of black paint over another
wee fella. But I don’t think it was deliberate. And
as a wee’un he was good, even as a wee tote in a carry
cot. He was a good sleeper – and he never lost that!
And he was always a determined wee tote. He’d get
into something and not let it go until he’d done with
it. We used to cut a lot of turf, about 11/2 miles from
the house, and even when he was tiny he’d always insist
on coming with us."
There were just the usual childhood illnesses, and a propensity
for bloody knees and noses that will surprise no-one familiar
with Joe’s later escapades. Both Unchanaugh, and later
Bravallen Road, where the windmill stood and where brother
Robert now lives, were quiet and out-of-the-way. Even when
the opportunity arose, which was rarely, he wasn’t
one for ‘running around with a crowd of people’.
The market town of Ballymoney – Ulster’s best
kept medium town of 1996 – was largely spared sectarian
violence and not the worst of places in which to grow up.
For much of the time Joey’s most available playmate
was Helen, who would later marry Merv Robinson, mentor of
his early racing career. Both children shared the Dunlop
self-reliance, the same quiet ease in their own company.
"When mum was in hospital having the younger ones,
me and Joey used to have to look after things," explained
Helen. "But I like being on my own, just like he did.
Maybe we both appreciated peace and quiet because we got
so little of it at home. But the best time," she adds
in contradiction, "was in our teens, when we were at
the dances. Me mum used to send Joey with me to look after
me, but it usually ended up the other way round. We’d
get on the bus and go to Quay Road Hall in Ballycastle –
the “in” place then – or The Strand in
Portstewart … see the Dave Clark Five, The Tremeloes,
The Troggs … although Joey wasn’t really into
Earlier Helen had been responsible for breaking Joe’s
nose. "‘It was an accident – I pulled a
tractor harrow on top of him. There was a lot of blood –
he always took terrible bloody noses. He was accident prone
… always falling off roofs and things like that. He
once threw a load of paraffin in the stove and burnt his
face. We tried to keep him away from mum until his eyebrows
and hair grew back."
Minor bangs and bloodshed were normal fare in an active
household that didn’t boast its first television until
Joey was in his teens. ‘We weren’t spoilt as
kids, because my mum and dad never had anything,’
offers Robert, only for his wife Louise to say: "They
were all spoiled. Not with money – there was none
– but indulged and supported in other ways."
"In the evenings, when they were little," May
remembers, "we’d either read them books or they’d
play games around the fire. We were at Culduff before we
got our first TV."
"Aye," agrees Willie, "‘we took them
out most Sundays, but not to the towns, because that cost
money. We took them all over the north coast instead."
Whether it came from such family outings or elsewhere, Joey
would never lose his fondness for Ireland’s wilderness
places, or his apparent indifference to creature comforts.
Donegal would be a welcome if windswept bolt-hole even in
the last month of his life.
Not surprisingly, formal tuition was not a trait in a family
more at ease with hands-on learning or watching the real
thing. Even more than most kids, Joe seemed to enjoy taking
things to bits. "I did quite a lot of work at home",
explains Willie. "There were always bits of engine
lying around. That’s probably where he picked some
of it up." Virginia is more certain. "All I can
remember him doing was working, out in the garage."
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