Northern Ireland

Spence farming tragedy: Hundreds attending funerals

The coffins of three members of the Spence family are taken to the church
Image caption The coffins of three members of the Spence family are taken to the church

Hundreds of people are attending the funerals of three members of one family, who died in a farming accident in County Down.

Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence, 22; his brother Graham, 30, and father Noel, 58, were overcome by slurry gas at their family farm on Saturday.

A thanksgiving service is taking place at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, followed by burial at Inch Cemetery.

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

They include 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 is also at the church.

Mourners have been 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 clergyman leading the service described Noel as a committed Christian, a hard working man, "a very generous man, a man of true grit."

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

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

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

Image caption The three men Noel (L), Nevin (centre) and Graham Spence (R) will be buried after a joint funeral service in Ballynahinch

Nevin Spence was considered to be one of the up-and-coming stars of the Ulster rugby team and tributes have been paid by fans, players and politicians.

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, before the cortege travelled via Hillsborough-Annahilt to the church in Ballynahinch.

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

Motorists are warned of traffic disruption until about 16:00 BST.

The routes affected are:

  • Lisburn Street
  • Langley Road
  • Magheraknock Road
  • Ballycrean Road/Riverside Road junction
  • Dromore Road/Riverside Road junction

The car park of Ballynahinch Baptist Church has been reserved for the Spence family cars, disabled parking and VIP visitors.

The new playing fields at Ballynahinch High School are open for parking.

Alternative parking is available at:

  • Langley Road playing fields
  • Congregational Church car park, Dromore Street
  • Edengrove Church car park, Dromore Street
  • Croob Park Primary School, Dromore Street
  • Supervalue rear car park, Lisburn Street

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