How did it all start?

Let me first introduce the oldest Harley-Davidson Club in Northern Ireland. The Harley-Davidson Riders Club Northern Ireland was established in 1991, by its founder, Robert Burns. Robert believed that as an owner of a Harley and seeing other Harley riders on the road, it was about time Northern Ireland had a Harley club to bring Harley riders together. There was no sign of one being in existence, so it was time to start one up. How do you start up a club with no funding for advertising etc.? For months Robert went travelling around Northern Ireland to put up posters in bars, bike shops, service stations, cafe’s etc.. 1000 posters in all. Remember, at this time Northern Ireland did not have a Harley-Davidson dealer, official or otherwise.

The poster explained about the first gathering which was to be on August 12th 1991. A local newspaper had published a photo and a short write-up on the up-and-coming gathering, but the rest depended upon the 1000 posters and word of mouth between the Harley owners in the Province, some of whom were already well known to each other.

On the Saturday in question, Robert rode to the meeting place, The King’s Head Bar in Balmoral, Belfast to meet up with anyone who might turn up. On leaving the bar 90 minutes later he was followed by 32 other Harleys. You would have thought he had swallowed a coat hanger sideways, with the smile on his face. The ride-out proceeded up the Antrim coast towards Portrush, with a brief stop in Carnlough. Once at Portrush everyone got a bite to eat and talked Harley. Names and numbers were swapped and everyone went their separate ways.

In December of that year Robert got everyone together who had been on the run to meet and discuss starting a club. Robert chaired the meeting and asked “Well if we are to have a club, we need a name”, and any suggestions were invited from the floor. The late, and sadly missed, Ronnie Cassidy piped up from a silent room, “Something with Harley in it would be a good start!”. So that set the tone for the rest of the night and ever since. The Club of course became the Harley-Davidson Riders Club Northern Ireland. One club member said that you can’t let anyone in just because they own a Harley. In the beginning we did, in order to include everyone and give them a chance to make the Club into something we could all be proud of. The membership had grown from 35 Harley-Davidsons to 65 Harley-Davidsons and back down to 35. That one club member had been right. The existing club members believe that any bike should be ridden, not just talked about, polished and photographed, although a lot of that goes on. Some past members were not into riding their bikes and attending rallies etc.. as much as others. Although Northern Ireland is a tiny place we actually had club members we never saw out on their bikes. We also had club members leave for valid reasons, emigration, family commitments, selling their bike etc.. but most of them still remain very good friends of the Club.

What do we do?

We have run charity events and Easter Egg Runs to children’s homes, a Blood Run with MAG, Bigger-than-Borders (the biggest European demonstration run from Stormont to Dublin) etc. HDRCNI hosted the 30th anniversary showing of the iconic movie ‘Easy Rider’ at the Queens Film Theatre Belfast to raise money for the Marie Curie Hospice. We have attended rallies throughout Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, Poland, Scotland, England, Wales, Greece and Czech Republic) and were a member of The Federation of Harley-Davidson Clubs Europe (FH-DCE) of which there are about 40 member clubs, representing 20,000 members.

In November 2007 it was our privilege to organize and present the FH-DCE Presidents Meeting in Bangor, Co. Down. At that meeting we hosted 340 Presidents and club officials from European clubs from as far North as Lithuania and as far south as Greece. We also had members of the senior management of Harley-Davidson Europe in attendance, an indication of how seriously the Harley-Davidson Motor Company views the opinions of FH-DCE. HDRCNI joined the Federation to communicate with others about our Club and find the same information about other clubs. Being a FH-DCE member gave us all as Harley riders a strong, united voice when talking to European government, Harley-Davidson themselves and other rider’s groups. It’s also a very good way of meeting like-minded people and gives us a good reason to travel throughout Europe and enjoy some great parties.

Club Rallies

Each year we organised and hosted a rally on the May Day Bank Holiday weekend.

In 1992 we had our first rally at Dolly’s Brae Inn, Castlewellan. It was a great success in a beautiful site in the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down. This was a bar that the army of King William of Orange stopped at in 1689, so an old pub. We had a band and a load of friends having a great time that weekend. We used this site for a number of rallies then outgrew it. We had to find a bigger bar with bigger and better camping facilities.

In 1995 we went out for a run as a club to find another location for our rallies. We had gone out one day with six bars to try out. The first was The Slaney Inn in Raholp, Downpatrick. We sampled the beer, talked to the landlord and inspected the site. To this day we have yet to get to the second pub on our list. The Slaney Inn was an ideal venue for rallies, why look any further? So from then on until 2007 our rallies were held here, and if you ever went to one, you will understand why. The site itself was set in the rolling hills of County Down, just below St.Patrick’s Shrine. The bar was run by Eamon Hayes, the best landlord ever, and his family, who provided a fantastic service in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Sadly by 2007/8 The Slaney Inn had ceased trading due to the financial problems of the time and we were forced to change the venue for our rally. However no history of this Club would be complete without acknowledging the friendship and support given to the Club over those years by the management and staff of The Slaney Inn.

Between 2008 and 2010 we held our annual rally at the Rugby Club in Dromore, Co.Down. The rugby club and its members gave us a warm welcome and were a pleasure to work with. However, we were used to a less formal atmosphere at our rallies and decided to look for a venue which could deliver a little bit more of the flavour of Northern Ireland and allow us to present our guests with a more picturesque location.

As a result we organized our 20th Anniversary Rally in 2011 at The Harbour Inn, Annalong, Co.Down. This event was attended by over 250 people, representing clubs from all over the UK, Ireland (both North and South) and Holland. We were happy to find this venue as we were able to produce an event with a relaxed atmosphere, in a perfect setting, combining views of the Mourne Mountains and Irish Sea.

Links with other clubs

As a club we also attend as many rallies as possible. In 1994 our club was presented with the biggest club turnout at the Harley Owners Club Ireland annual rally in Waterford, a rally we have attended every year since its beginning in 1992. This rally is traditionally held on the first weekend of July and is recommended to any Harley rider who wants an easy-going, enjoyable rally. We have a solid relationship with the Waterford boys, their support has been instrumental over the years and volunteered our services in helping them with their Super Rally in 2013.

We have regularly attended the rallies of Caledonia Harley Club in Scotland for many years in addition to H-DC t’Centrum in Holland and H-DC Big Twin Espania over the last 10 years and we try to attend at least one if not all of these events each year. These are enjoyable, well run events.

We are also regular attendees at the FH-DCE Super Rally, which takes place in a different European country each year. 

We’d also like to thank our local clubs (Quay Vipers, Boothill, Storm Riders, the Harley Riders’ Club, Dublin, etc) for their valuable and CONSISTENT support at our rallies and functions over the years. We are looking forward to continuing our mutually advantageous relationships with these clubs in the coming years and to build a better and stronger relationship with the local HOG chapter.

The Club

The Northern Ireland Club members range in age from 30’s to 70’s. We do not judge people on their age, size, colour, political persuasion, religion, sex, dress sense, occupation or anything else; as long as each club member rides a Harley-Davidson, nothing else matters. Riders come from all over Northern Ireland, with some from further afield.

The refreshing thing about the Club is the lack of people looking to inflate their egos. Most, if not all, members have been riding bikes for years, everything from British, Japanese, Italian and Harley etc. As a result of this and the support given to us by other non-Harley clubs in our early years, our rally is not H-D only. The Harley-Davidson Riders Club Northern Ireland is just that, a club of people RIDING Harley-Davidson motorcycles with other like-minded people.