Causeway Chronicle

County Antrim Road Racing Legends celebrated as Ulster Museum’s Driven Gallery opens

Seven motorbikes owned by local road racing legends including Gary and Joey Dunlop and Frank Kennedy now part of museum display

Ulster Transport Museum has acquired seven motorbikes that were raced by some of Northern Ireland’s road racing legends, including Antrim’s Gary and Joey Dunlop and Frank Kennedy, with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Department for Communities.

The motorcycles, originally owned and restored by motorsport enthusiast Ivor Skelton and date from the 1970s to 2010s, are now on display in the Ulster Transport Museum as part of its Driven Gallery, which has reopened to the public following a short closure over the Summer to make way for the bikes.

The seven motorbikes are connected to some of the most well-known racers in Northern Irish road history with Joey’s 1978 Yamaha TZ250E and his brother Robert’s 1986 Special Honda RS125RW are part of the new display at the museum, as well as a Yamaha F1R1 1000cc which was the last bike Philip McCallen won a race on at the Tandragee 100 before retiring. A 1977 Spondon Yamaha TZ250 owned by privateer Tom Herron, a Suzuki TT McAdoo Superbike GSXR 1000 first raced by Ryan Farquhar in the 2003 North West 200, a 1987 RS Honda 125 owned by Owen McNally and a 1976 Maxton Yamaha TZ350 owned by Frank Kennedy also make up the collection.

Gary Dunlop, son of the late Joey Dunlop and also former racer himself said, “It’s brilliant for the sport to have an exhibition somewhere like the Ulster Transport Museum. There’s probably not enough in the country, for what motorbike racing has done for Northern Ireland, so any sort of exhibition that people can go to, is great for them and for the sport.  It’s particularly nice for the exhibition to have my Dad’s bike in it and be one that Ivor had collected, being a local man as well.”

Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI, said the acquisition reaffirms Ulster Transport Museum as a place to celebrate and be inspired by Northern Ireland’s heritage.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Skelton family, the Department for Communities and the National Heritage Memorial Fund for supporting us in bringing these iconic motorbikes into our transport collection. Road racing is a significant sport in Northern Ireland, we’re one of the few countries in the world that holds races on public roads, yet we did not have any examples of racing motorcycles in our collection. Until now,” she said.

“Having these bikes in the Ulster Transport Museum not only allows us to share the achievements of our road racing greats with our visitors and the road racing fraternity near and far but also to connect audiences with our heritage, as the museum is a place to inspire the designers, engineers and adventurers of the future, so they too can leave a positive impact on Northern Ireland.”

2022 marked the centenary of the Road Races Act which permitted road racing of both cars and motorcycles to take place across Northern Ireland. The sport remains well-loved to this day, signalling just how important it is to give it a platform at the Ulster Transport Museum.

Clare Ablett, Curator of History at National Museums NI, explained that sharing the transport collection and the stories behind it with the public is the most powerful way of connecting audiences to Northern Ireland’s past, present and future.

She said, “Whether connected to racing, engineering or endurance, the stories featured in our Driven Gallery are those of ambitious people who made incredible contributions to Northern Ireland and were destined to succeed – people whose stories will inspire our audiences. Road racing is a sport synonymous with Northern Ireland, with local riders, past and present, all household names right across the island of Ireland and even further afield.

“Alongside the racing itself, the sport tells another story too. The story of passion, not only for road racing, but for engineering and innovation, so we’re incredibly proud to now include road racing as part of the Ulster Transport Museum experience. The seven bikes were kept to a great standard by Ivor Skelton, and his family after his passing, and we will ensure that they are maintained for the public to enjoy for generations to come.”

Bill Kennedy, brother of the late Frank Kennedy whose bike is part of the new display also commented “This is absolutely a brilliant idea. Not only does it keep Ivor’s memory alive but it also keeps the stars who rode these iconic machines and raced our roads on them, in Ireland but further afield – and who won so much and put so much into the sport that has put Northern Ireland far and beyond any other nation as far as road racing is concerned – alive too.

Eilish McGuinness, Chief Executive of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “Northern Ireland has a strong tradition of road racing that has become embedded in its cultural heritage, and motorcycle racing retains a passionate following.  We are delighted that the National Heritage Memorial Fund has been able to support the acquisition of these seven remarkable motorcycles, each linked to a racing legend, and which will now form part of the permanent collection at the Ulster Transport Museum.  There, they will represent the motorcycling racing community locally and internationally and showcase how heritage can come in many different shapes and sizes.”

For more information on the Driven Gallery and to plan a visit, go to ulstertransportmuseum.org

Press Eye – Northern Ireland – 19th October 2023 Ulster Transport Museum’s Driven gallery has reopened following the addition of seven road racing motorcycles dating from the 1970s to the 2010s – a collection that represents Northern Ireland’s connection to road racing and tells the stories of some of the biggest racing champions of all time. Photograph by Declan Roughan / Press Eye
Press Eye – Northern Ireland – 19th October 2023 Ulster Transport Museum’s Driven gallery has reopened following the addition of seven road racing motorcycles dating from the 1970s to the 2010s – a collection that represents Northern Ireland’s connection to road racing and tells the stories of some of the biggest racing champions of all time. Photograph by Declan Roughan / Press Eye
Press Eye – Northern Ireland – 19th October 2023 Ulster Transport Museum’s Driven gallery has reopened following the addition of seven road racing motorcycles dating from the 1970s to the 2010s – a collection that represents Northern Ireland’s connection to road racing and tells the stories of some of the biggest racing champions of all time. Photograph by Declan Roughan / Press Eye
Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson