Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 March 2015

Willie John McBride: My heart goes out to the Spences

Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down.  Tributes placed at Ravenhill
Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down. Tributes placed at Ravenhill
Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down. Tributes placed at Ravenhill
Book of condolence opened at Ravenhill rugby ground for Ulster rugby star Nevin Spence along with his brother Graham and father Noel who died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm outside Hillsborough in Co. Down. Tributes placed at Ravenhill
Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence who was killed, along with his father and brother in a farming accident
A painting of Nevin Spence by his sister Emma.
Artist Emma Spence from Hillsborough County Down pictured at her studio in a barn at the rear of her father's farm. ©Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland.25th February 2011
Pacemaker Press 17/9/2012 Graham Spence
Graham Spence at his Hillsborough farm.
Nevin Spence on the family farm. Pacemaker press
Ulster's Nevin Spence
Nevin Spence, father Noel and brother Graham
Nevin Spence playing for Ulster last December against the Scarletts
Nevin Spence at Ulster's summer camp
Nevin Spence in action for Ulster against Bath
Nevin Spence with Ulster team-mate Nigel Brady back in December 2010
Nevin Spence relaxing down on the farm
Nevin Spence (far left) with young Oscar Knox who suffers from a rare form of cancer
Gifted: Accident survivor Emma Spence on the family farm
Emma Spence in her artist's studio
Emma Spence's portrait of brother Nevin on the rugby pitch
Ulster's Nevin Spence
Horror: The Spence farm, where emergency services attended on Saturday night after four people were overcome by fumes
Horror: The Spence farm, where emergency services attended on Saturday night after four people were overcome by fumes
Tributes for Nevin Spence and his family left at Ravenhill
A family console each other while reading messages of condolence at the home of Ulster Rugby
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.
Nevin Spence, who died alongside his father Noel and brother Graham
Ulster's Nevin Spence
Tributes left at Ulster Rugby's home ground Ravenhill for Nevin Spence and his family.

In the wake of the deaths of Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and their father Noel, the legendary Willie John McBride yesterday attempted to put things in perspective.

The former Ireland and Lions lock and captain, who is renowned throughout the rugby-playing world, said: “For now, just forget about rugby and instead think of this in terms of a human tragedy.

“I’m not talking about rugby; I’m talking now about people and I’m talking about life. Sometimes life can be very cruel and this is one of those occasions.”

Admitting that he could not find words to express the depth of his horror at what has happened, he said: “You can’t begin to imagine the effect of this on the family. Your heart just goes out to them.

“It is up to people now to support Mrs Spence through this and to help keep her going through this dreadful tragedy.

“Most of us have been through some hard times and as a result we know that it’s at moments like this that you really do need help and support,” he continued.

“If you just stop for one moment and pause to think of what actually has happened — that the three males of the family have disappeared in one fell swoop — you see the enormity of it. As I have said, I am not able to put it into words; it is terrible.”

The man who captained the 1974 British and Irish Lions — to this day dubbed The Invincibles in view of their unbeaten march through South Africa — has known tragedy in his own life.

“I remember my father died — very suddenly — when I was four and I remember that it was the neighbours who sustained my mother through those years.

“She was left with a very young family at that time and the neighbours helped her in every way they could.

“It is at times like this that you know you have neighbours and I’m sure Mrs Spence’s neighbours will see her through, too. I certainly hope so.”

Pointing to pressing, purely practical problems, he highlighted some of the issues which must be addressed immediately.

“I believe friends and neighbours are helping out at the minute with the things that have to be done in keeping the farm going,” he said.

But he also stressed that other matters will require more thought before long-term solutions are found.

“It’s going to take time for some of the other decisions to be made as to where Mrs Spence is going and how she’s going to sort her life out again and re-adjust. Again I say it, this is the time when neighbours must stand together with her and help.”

And emphasising just how quickly and unexpectedly life can change, he said: “No-one ever foresees anything like this. You cannot legislate for what has happened.

“But that’s the cruel strike that life sometimes hits you with and when it does it’s then up to the rest of us to support people in those circumstances.

“It’s going to be tough, very tough, for the family. But this is when you know who your neighbours and your friends are.”

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