Dunlop - a short Biography
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).......
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.
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."
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."
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."
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
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 music."