IT was the most appropriate tribute that could possibly have been paid to Joe McKeown, (pictured right), as 40 motorcyclists - including two police outriders - accompanied his cortege to his final resting place.
For Joe (84) was Mr Motorcycle Personified, a lifelong member and office bearer in many clubs - chairman of Club 30, a founder member of the Clady Club and the Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club, and the starter of the Tandragee 100 event. And in his ‘home’ club - the North Armagh Motorcycle and Car Club - he held just about every committee role since the 1960s until his death.
Joe was also responsible for starting classic racing in Ireland, and introducing the first classic race at the Tandragee 100. And in October past, he was honoured as President of the Irish Racing Association.
Not only did he enjoy watching and administering motor cycle racing, but - in conjunction with his genius in all things electrical and mechanical - Joe McKeown loved to collect and restore old vintage machines over the years, which he kept at his home in Bleary. Perhaps most unusual purchase was a mini trike on which he roared around the roads when the weather permitted.
But there was much more to Joe than motorcycling - he worked hard for charities, and when he was 80, he did a tandem parachute jump to raise £15,000 for the Banbridge/Portadown Alzheimer’s Society Group which he helped set up, a cause he adopted when his wife Ena took ill as a result of the condition which ultimately claimed her life.
He was also involved for many years with the legendary Josie and Walter Kerr of the Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund, and a great supporter of their annual Waringstown Cavalcade which raised thousands of pounds for the charity. Indeed, Joe had the magical touch for raising funds for just about everything - including motorcycling organisations - and it was very difficult to get past him without buying a ballot ticket for some worthy cause!
Joe McKeown was born in Moyallon on January 28, 1912, his father being a land steward there for the famous Richardson family. The McKeowns moved to Ballygowan in County Down for a number of years and then returned to their home area, settling at Clare Road, Waringstown.
He was one of a family of four - Margaret (known as Peggy or Madge), folllowed by Joe and his brothers Harold and Jack (Jack died from cancer three years’ ago). During that time, Joe started his valuable service to the community as an officer with the Waringstown Company of the Boys’ Brigade.
He attended Lurgan Tech (Then Lurgan Technical Institute) and showed an immediate aptitude for all things electrical and mechanical, obtaining top grades in woodwork, technical drawing and engineering. He served his apprenticeship at Harland and Wolff, the Belfast shipbuilders, and then worked as an electrician with Alfred Briggs furniture factory in Lurgan. He then spent a year with an electrical firm in Glasgow and the worked with the Ulster firm of Reyrolle as a charge hand - they supplied major power stations like Ballylumford, Coolkeeragh and Tandragee.
His last job was with the electrical maintenance department at Belfast International Airport where he remained until he retired in 1993.
Most of all, he adored his family, and his devotion to wife Ena - to whom he was married for 60 years - was shown in his work for Alzheimer’s from which she died a number of years ago. He was also a loving father to their four daughters - Jeanette, Venita, Diane and Lorraine. They and the extended family will miss him greatly.
There are seven grandchildren - Scott, Keri, Jamie, Giles, John, Jason and Kirsty, plus eight great-grandchildren - Aleesha, Mia, Keanu, Billy, Jay, Kenya, Keane and Shay.
In December 2011, Joe was diagnosed with Non-Hodgins Lymphonia, and fought the illness bravely through a series of chemotherapy treatments, and was given the all-clear in July. Sadly, he passed away on Monday of last week as a result of pneumonia, following a short spell at Craigavon Area Hospital.
His great lifelong friend Paddy Hoey paid a tribute at the funeral service in Knocknamuckley Parish Church. He said, “The one word to described Joe was - service. He served the many interests in which he was involved with enthusiasm, diligence and commitment. If he was on your side, he went all the way with you. Even if he crossed swords with you, it was quickly forgotten.”
After recounting Joe’s many interests, Paddy recalled that a realignment of the Tandragee 100 course necessitated a re-measure. “But rather than do it on foot, Joe persuaded the owner of an A35 to drive slowly round the circuit, sitting backwards in the boot legs dangling and pulling a measuring wheel! He recalled the circuit was five miles 333 yards exactly!”
The ‘hearse’ was in the form of a motor tricycle. The service was conducted by two ministers - the Rev Gareth Harron and the Rev Ken Robinson. Mr Harron is Rector of Maralin and is standing in, with the former ‘Muckley Rector the Rev Darren McCartney having moved to Baffin Island in the Arctic. Mr Robinson, of Epworth Methodist, Portadown, says the prayers each year prior to the Tandragee 100 - at the original request of Joe McKeown.
Donations in lieu of flowers are to The Injured Riders, c/o Ian Milne, 59 Seagoe Road, Portadown BT63 5HS.