Belfast Telegraph

Family of tragic rugby star Nevin honoured by new centre in his memory

By Rebecca Black

The sister of a special Ulster Rugby player who died in a tragic farm accident with his brother and father has said it was an honour to have painted his portrait for a new centre in his memory.

Artist Emma Spence, her sister Laura and mother Essie, were among the special guests at the opening of the Nevin Spence Centre at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast yesterday.

The new centre is an education and heritage centre that was named in memory of the young rugby sensation.

At the centre of the facility is a stunning painting of Nevin in action on the famous Ulster pitch it stands beside.

It is three years since Nevin (22) died along with his brother Graham and father Noel at their farm on the outskirts of Hillsborough.

They were all overcome by fumes in a slurry tank while trying to save a pet dog.

Emma herself heroically tried to save them but also suffered in the fumes and had to be treated in hospital.

Yesterday she described her brother as special and welcomed the opening of the centre in his memory as a chance to give people a glimpse into how special he really was.

"Every time somebody walks into Ulster's ground, they will see his name above the door and it is a privilege that he has been given such a legacy," she said.

"Nevin was special to us, and now we find this centre special.

"I hope when people go there they will learn a bit about Nevin and the character he was.

"It is humbling that this honour has been given to him. We have learned very quickly that life is precious and that you have to make the most of life.

"We are just very privileged that Ulster are letting Nevin's legacy, and the person he was, live on."

Emma also talked about how honoured she felt to be asked by Ulster Rugby to create a painting for the centre but admitted it had been hard.

"It wasn't the easiest painting to do in the world, but I couldn't not try to do it," she said.

"That painting especially is 90% thought and emotion and about 10% of doing.

"I hope Nevin would like it, I hope he would be satisfied with it. He would be very critical of it, but I just want to show what I see when he used to play, the power and the energy and the action, giving 100% to get that ball over the line."

She added Nevin would have never expected such an honour of a centre named after him, which she said is why she thinks he deserves it.

"He just wanted to play rugby and play to his best," she said.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin officially opened the centre and congratulated all involved.

Bobby Stewart, IRFU President (Ulster Branch), said the centre tells the history of rugby in Ulster, while demonstrating the important benefits of a healthy lifestyle and is also a "vibrant and entirely fitting way to remember Nevin who was so tragically taken from us almost three years ago".

Belfast Telegraph


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