Rugby stunned by tragedy at Spence family farm

Nevin Spence, 22, was killed along with his brother Graham and father Noel in a slurry tank accident at the family farm near Hillsborough on Saturday. His sister Emma taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where she is reported as recovering from the effects of fume inhalation.  Graham Spence, 30, was a married father of two.  Noel Spence, 52, is survived by a wife and two daughters.

Ambulance crews were called to the farm just after 6pm on Saturday. Initial reports suggest Nevin’s father fell into the slurry tank. It was reported that Graham tried to rescue him, then Nevin got involved, and his sister Emma. The Health and Safety Executive said two of its senior inspectors attended the scene on Saturday evening. “From our initial investigations, we understand that the three family members who entered an underground slurry tank died from the effects of exposure to slurry gases.”

Prayers have been said on Sunday for the family at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, which the Spence family attended. Pastor Rodney Stout paid tribute to all three men – “they were incredibly gentle, decent, hard working, with a deep sense of family loyalty and this tragedy would have a huge effect on a very tight-knit community.”

Flowers, scarves and other tributes are being left at Ulster’s Ravenhill ground in memory of Nevin Spence. A book of condolence is to open there at 10am on Monday. It will be available to sign until the end of the week and Ravenhill will be open all week from 9am until 5pm each day for anyone wishing to leave tributes.

Nevin attended Wallace High School in Lisburn and was a talented footballer as well as a rugby player. The sporting all-rounder burst onto the rugby scene with local club, Ballynahinch in 2009 and quickly caught the eye of the Ulster selectors. He made his first appearance for Ulster against Ospreys in April 2010. Although he could play on the wing, he established himself as a regular in the Ulster squad in recent seasons, playing 42 times. He was one of the rising stars of Ulster rugby, a tough-tackling centre and seen as a future Irish international. He was part of the Ulster Rugby squad which reached the European Heineken Cup final last season, playing in some of the group games. After an injury-hit start to this season, he played for the Ulster Ravens, the club’s reserve side, against Munster A at Deramore Park in Belfast on Friday.

Away from rugby, Nevin helped out on the family farm and regularly and enthusiastically updated his many followers on Twitter and Facebook with pictures from the farm. With his farming background, he recently signed as a brand ambassador for the Dairy Council of Northern Ireland.