'There will be an empty chair at the table' - William Dunlop's heartbroken mum on the first Christmas without him
The heartbroken mother of the late road racing hero William Dunlop says her family are facing a "poignant and raw" first Christmas without him.
The 32-year-old Ballymoney rider died in a crash during practice for the Skerries 100 race in Co Dublin back in July.
It was the third tragedy to hit the Dunlop family. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 racing in Estonia, and just eight years later death struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200.
William had been looking forward to the birth of his second child with his partner Janine Brolly. His "pride and joy", little Ella, marked her second birthday just three days after William was buried.
The couple's baby girl, Willa Wren, was born two months after her father's passing. At the time William's devastated partner said she had no doubt that he would have been "besotted" with his new baby and said she was "grateful for two precious girls who are keeping my heart beating".
Now the family are facing a tough Christmas without a much-loved partner, son, father and brother.
"The first Christmas without William will be really tough," William's mother Louise told the Belfast Telegraph. "William has only left us a few months ago and we are just not really able to want to do a lot or see people. That raw stage is still here.
"We just want time and space because you cannot get over things as easily now, particularly when it was someone so young and it was very unexpected. It is hard, but you have to do things. There is an awful lot of people going through exactly the same thing as we are."
Louise says that Janine is finding the loss of her partner and father of her two children particularly difficult.
At the time of his funeral Louise paid a special tribute, promising to tell their girls "how special Daddy was and how much he loves them".
She poignantly wrote in a tribute on William's official website that the area where "he really shone brightest was as a father".
Louise says his little girls are helping everyone in the family cope with their loss.
"We are getting through and Janine and the girls are getting us all through too," she said.
"But they have their own struggles as well, Janine in particular.
"Just at the moment we are just not functioning very well. It's not easy. We don't know what we will do on Christmas Day. At this moment in time we are just taking it day by day. We are just trying to get through the next few weeks and months, and get Janine through it and the girls.
"It's just about taking each day as it comes. For Janine it is particularly hard. It is her future gone, she is grieving for the girls as well as for herself. It is all just very painful and still very raw at the moment."
In July thousands of mourners packed the quiet country road outside Garryduff Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney to say goodbye to William. In the five months since the family have been inundated with messages of support.
Louise says that hearing people speak so warmly of her son has been a huge comfort to her and her family. She says that the family have received gifts, cards and letters from all over the world from people who have been touched by her son's life and who loved him. She adds the family are extremely proud of all that he achieved in his short 32 years.
"A lot of people haven't forgotten William and certainly that has been a comfort to us," she said. "He made such an impression on people. And that was really quite shocking, because he was quite a quiet and private person. But people seemed to have warmed to him greatly for that. We are just grateful that we had him in our lives for as long as we did. It is just so raw and painful at the moment and we are just trying to get through every day.
"I just want to thank everyone who has been thinking of us and sending gifts. They are still coming. The biking community are like a family. They have all rallied around us. They have been wonderful, as they always are. And the continued support from friends, family and the church really is much valued by us.
"I can't believe the outpouring of love and support. I've had letters from as far away as New Zealand and Australia and all over the world. We've had letters from borough councils in Northern Ireland, from every corner of the globe. William truly touched people and we have to be proud of the 32 years that he was with us. He achieved so much and we are so proud of him. So many people loved him.
"We indeed know it's not easy for other people in exactly the same position as us. So we just have to make the best of it and get through."
William was a devoted family man. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph in 2016 after Ella was born, he said he didn't think being a dad would change the way he thought, but that it "makes you realise there is more to life than motorbikes and winning".
Now he is gone, Louise says the family get flashes of him in Ella.
"The girls, particularly Ella, are so like their father. Ella is the double of him and her little ways and her mannerisms are his. I thought she might lean more to Mummy, but she's not, she's her Daddy's girl," Louise explained.
Louise has been trying to keep herself busy so as not to dwell on the grief and loss that is never far from her mind.
She says Christmas will be particularly hard for them all with the empty chair at the table.
"I think we can speak for most people and say that it is a really hard time," she said. "But you just try to get through it day by day, with the help of friends and the church. At the minute I am just preoccupied. Sometimes that is the only way to do it - to keep incredibly busy. It's almost like you don't want to dwell on things. Christmas will come and go like every other day, but it's a particularly poignant thing for most families who have gone through this - it's that empty chair.
"As time goes on things do start to look a little bit brighter. But just at the minute it has only been months, and it is quite hard. You get through on autopilot almost.
"Janine has to be strong now, and she has been. We'll get through it for the girls. Every day after Christmas and every month after Christmas. We just want to thank everyone for thinking of us."