Over six decades of dedication to Irwin’s firm by ‘natural’ mechanic

William (Billy) Nugent.
William (Billy) Nugent.
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Tribute William (Billy) Nugent

A love of mechanics developed as an eight-year-old helping his grandfather work on tractors led to a lifelong calling which combined his natural talent with a professionalism which remains the yardstick within his beloved Irwin’s.

Described by company director Niall Irwin as having “an encyclopedic and instinctive knowledge”, Billy spent brief spells on his uncle’s farm at Kilmoriarty and as a welder before finding his passion after joining the Portadown firm at 17 years of age.

Learning his trade under Billy Humphries, another much-loved character connected to Irwin’s Bakery, Billy rose to prominence as transport manager and garage foreman responsible for around 120 vehicles.

However, his commitment was not confined to any single official role as Billy’s honesty and reliability allowed him to serve in a variety of positions. At various times he handled the maintenance of mobile and static plants across different divisions.

Such was his standing, Kenneth Irwin refused to start his official retirement party until someone picked up Billy and brought him along to join in the special occasion.

“Billy was adaptable and inventive, someone who could turn his hand to anything,” said Niall. “He had an encyclopedic and instinctive knowledge ranging from the sand barges on Lough Neagh to our fleet of vans and lorries.

“His skill with engines was respected across the industry and even beyond, with many from outside the firm making contact with Billy to seek advice.

“He would often talk about the need to “listen to the engine and let it tell you what was wrong”.

“He took great pride in the responsibility for keeping the fleet on the road and that dedication often included early-morning call-outs or late nights.

“He inspired those around him but was lacking in ego and always happy to pass on his vast knowledge.”

Brian Irwin, also a company director, had special praise for Billy’s work ethic.

“Although highly intelligent, Billy believed in a simple approach and refused to over-complicate matters but had that special touch of invention,” said Brian. “Even after his retirement, Billy remained in close contact and it was always ‘we’ when talking about Irwin’s.”

Born on December 28, 1930, to George and Ellen Nugent of Clounagh Lane, Billy was the eldest of two boys and attended Hart Memorial Primary School up to the age of 14.

Billy often enjoyed telling the tale of how he and younger brother John were approached at the Kilmoriarty farm by a man on horseback informing the teenagers that the Second World War had ended. Both immediately downed tools and headed into town to joy in the celebrations.

He married Jean Traynor in 1953 and took great pleasure in raising together the couple’s three children - George, Margaret and Jim.

His dedication to his wife extended to visits most days to Jean’s grave.

It was considered testament to his character that Billy even became part of a group of widowers who took comfort in their shared experiences.

Other interests included the Orange and Black lodges at Kilmoriarty and watching his beloved Portadown Football Club.

He spent many hours after retirement tending to his garden’s aviary and enjoyed family holidays at the caravan in Cranfield.

Billy left behind a wide social circle, especially his many friends at Shamrock Park and the Royal British Legion.

Family life remained key for Billy and time spent with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren brought great joy.

It is testament to his professional reputation, however, that Billy’s name remains a by-word within Irwin’s Bakery for excellence, with “What would Billy do?” still a familiar refrain.