Spence farm tragedy: Father and sons were best friends

Crowds of mourners outside service Three members of the Spence family who died in a farming accident in County Down have been described at their funeral as "best friends"
Mourners shake hands The men were overcome by slurry gas at their farm in Hillsborough on Saturday
Thanksgiving service booklet Among the mourners were figures from the farming and sporting communities
Spence family follow cortege Mrs Rice (far right) told mourners at Ballynahinch Baptist Church her father and brothers were "gentlemen"
Mourners A private service for the three men took place at the family home on Wednesday morning

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Three members of the Spence family who died in a farming accident in County Down have been described at their funeral as "best friends".

Emma Rice was speaking during a service for her father Noel Spence, 58, and her brothers Ulster rugby player Nevin, 22 and Graham, 30.

They were overcome by slurry gas at their farm in Hillsborough on Saturday.

Among the mourners were figures from the farming and sporting communities.

'Superstar'

Mrs Rice, who survived the accident, told mourners at Ballynahinch Baptist Church her father and brothers were "gentlemen".

"They were hardworking men. They were not perfect but they were genuine. They were best friends.

She said her brother, "wee Nev", was sarcastically nicknamed "the superstar" at home.

"He's the one who did not love the limelight, but handled it like a pro," she said.

Emma said her older brother, Graham, "protected me as I grew up".

Reverend Rodney Stout told mourners that Noel Spence had been a committed Christian, adding that he was "a very generous man, a man of true grit."

He said it would be "difficult to find a more hospitable neighbour or trustworthy businessman".

Graham Spence was described as having left a "wonderful legacy of memories" for his family.

Rev Stout said Graham, like his father, was a "gentle giant" who "didn't do anything out of a showy or boastful way".

Rev Stout said Graham was "unashamedly Nevin's biggest fan, and right behind his younger brother offering support".

Nevin Spence was considered to be one of the up-and-coming stars of the Ulster rugby team.

A tribute was read out on behalf of the director of Ulster Rugby, David Humphreys.

It said Nevin was "highly skilled and gifted, utterly committed to Ulster, determined to be the best that he could be".

Team jersey

Emma Rice pays tribute to her father Noel Spence and her two brothers Nevin and Graham who died in a farming tragedy (audio only).

"I have no doubt he could have gone on to play for Ireland," said Mr Humphreys.

The mourners included the President of the Ulster Farmers' Union, Harry Sinclair, and the entire Ulster rugby team.

Nevin's coffin, which was draped in his team jersey, was carried into the church by six of his team-mates.

Former Ireland international rugby player Trevor Ringland was also present.

A number of politicians attended the service, including SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and the DUP ministers Arlene Foster and Edwin Poots.

Mourners were given blank cards in the church in order to write personal messages to the Spence family, to act as a "lasting testimony" to the three men.

The accident at the farm on Drumlough Road in Hillsborough is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI).

A book of condolence has been opened at Ravenhill rugby ground in east Belfast, and Ulster's Pro12 match against Italian club Zebre on Friday has been postponed as a mark of respect to the Spence family.

A private service for the three men took place at the family home on Wednesday morning.

The family said the men had died while trying to save each other.

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