The sister of a rising Ulster Rugby star who tragically died after an accident on his family farm in 2012 said her family were “honoured” and “proud” to attend the opening of a new education and heritage centre which bears his name.
Emma Rice, whose brother Nevin Spence died aged 22 alongside their other sibling Graham (30) and father Noel (52) following a slurry tank accident at their farm near Hillsborough three years ago, gave a moving speech at the opening of the facility at the Kingspan Stadium yesterday.
The Nevin Spence Centre aims to enable visitors to explore the history of rugby and the benefits that the game can bring.
And Emma – who spent time in hospital recovering from her attempts to rescue her father and brothers – brought onlookers to tears as she gave a tribute to Nevin and the contribution he had made to rugby and his close-knit family.
Speaking at the opening she said the idea that Nevin had been special was something her mother “repeated when he was alive, and repeats even more now”.
She said: “Maybe what was even more special was the chance to encounter him in your life. Unfortunately, that will not happen on this Earth anymore.
“But this centre opening, named in his memory, will give people young and old a glimpse into seeing how special Nevin really was.
“There is no doubting the talent Nevin had with caps at a Northern Ireland level, at under-16 level and caps playing rugby for his Province and his country.
“Nevin gave 100 per cent at everything he did, whether it was on the rugby pitch or on a Monday morning in the weights gym.
“He was honest and genuine, he was determined to set that ball over the white line.
“His sheer strength often took three players of the opposing team to keep him back.
“He was humble. Nevin would always put you first. He was kind and funny.
“His agent said Nevin always had an infectious smile, and his mates would say he was a wind-up merchant.
“Nevin’s commitment to his faith reflected in his life.
“His team players said he was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, he always did what was right, even if it was at the expense of being slagged by a teammate.”
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said she believed the Nevin Spence Centre would bring children to the Kingspan Stadium from all over Northern Ireland, and from all backgrounds, to “allow them to learn new skills in a very fun environment”.
Speaking at the opening she added: “We have a world class stadium as the home of Ulster Rugby and a state of the art education centre.
“This will provide our young people with the opportunity to learn about the creative industries.”
Emma said that she hoped the naming of a sports centre in her brother’s honour would help to give those who did not have the pleasure of meeting him an insight into Nevin’s character.
She added: “I was once congratulated on Nev’s achievements, and to hide my confusion I accepted the praise for him and headed home to ask him at the dinner table what he had done.
“His answer was: ‘Nothing, I don’t know’ – only to find he had been selected to train at the Ulster camp, or had just won Ulster Rugby’s Young Player of the Year.
“Nevin did not see these things as important. Instead he reflected upon them.”