Obituary: Willie Nevin

By Anton McCabe and Ciaran Mulholland

Veteran East Belfast socialist Willie Nevin has died in his 67th year, after a period of severe illness.

Willie, from a Protestant background, was already a trade union activist when he came across Militant, forerunner of Militant Left, in the 1980s. Soon he was an active member where he joined regular sales of the paper ‘Militant’ outside local factories, including the Harland and Wolff Shipyard, and door to door in the majority Protestant area.

East Belfast has a proud history of trade unionism and socialist and labour politics. Willie and his comrades were determined to rebuild a socialist presence and by the mid-1980s there were three Militant branches in the area centred on Sydenham, the Newtownards Road and the Cregagh Road.

He was secretary of the CPSA (Civil and Public Services Association) in Northern Ireland. With many other Militant supporters across England, Scotland and Wales he engaged in an ultimately successful effort to oust the Right-wing leadership of the union. He stood with two other close comrades who are no longer with us. They were our comrade Davy Bell and our staunch ally Vincent Meenagh.

He was a regular delegate to his own union conferences and to the conferences of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He made a particular contribution to the development of socialist groups in countries where comrades suffered repression, through assisting their efforts to attend international events.

Willie was active in a hard political place. He lived his life on the Castlereagh Road in the heart of East Belfast. The 1980s was a time when Loyalist paramilitaries were killing in the area. Courageously, Willie did not flinch in his political stance.

He came from a ‘mixed’ family background. That made him a target for some. Willie always stood up to thugs, bigots and bullies.

Willie’s love of music, folk music in particular, was part of his socialism. In the 1990s he actively promoted the Belfast Balladeers. They were a company of musicians and poets. During those years they built up a significant following.

He enjoyed hillwalking, particularly in the Glens of Antrim and Donegal. Once, in south-west Donegal, he fell off a mountain road in the dark. He slept the night on a ledge. In the morning he climbed back to the road. From there he got a lift back to the B&B in time for breakfast.

Willie was also a witty teller of stories. He was proud to be the descendant of a Co Antrim United Irish leader. He said this ancestor had, after the defeat of the 1798 Rising, been smuggled to America in a whiskey barrel. We do not know the truth of the yarn. We know Willie certainly would have had the ingenuity to do the same.

The pressures of life and the bleak political situation meant Willie fell away from activity by the early 1990s. He never fell away from the ideas. A sign of his humanity was the way he regularly visited our comrade, Benny Adams. Benny had suffered a stroke and was confined to a nursing home in his last years.

Willie was predeceased by his partner, Cora. Rest in Power, Comrade Willie.

Willie is pictured here (left) with Benny Adams, Ballymena (seated) and Glenn Simpson, North Belfast (right).