Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Fans flock to ground to pay tribute

Nevin Spence died along with his father and brother at their farm when they fell into a slurry pit (John Dickson/Ulster Rugby/PA)

Ulster Rugby supporters have flocked to Ravenhill to pay tribute to Nevin Spence, who died alongside his brother and father after falling into a slurry tank on Saturday .

The talented 22-year-old rugby player died along with his 30-year-old brother, Graham, who was married with two children, and their 52-year-old father, Noel, after becoming overcome by gas at their farm on the Drumlough Road in Hillsborough, Co Down. His sister, Emma Spence, is being treated in hospital.

A sea of tributes has been placed at the famous old Memorial Clock end.

Richard Tate, who knew Nevin from childhood growing up in Ballynahinch, said: "He was such a great guy. Everyone is in complete shock. He was unbelievable, a really talented fellow. He had his whole life ahead of him. He would have played for Ireland and he would have done a great job for Ireland."

One memorial simply read: "Sleep tight Nevin, proud to have seen you play." Among the many red and white Ulster shirts tied to the fence were jerseys from Spence's earlier playing days. A fellow past pupil at Wallace High School had pinned up the school kit, along with a five-year-old folded newspaper article, shielded from the elements in a plastic file, that reported on Spence scoring a hat-trick of tries in a Schools' Cup victory.

Philip Gregg, chairman of Ballynahinch RFC - where both Nevin and Graham played, travelled to the ground to add his club's shirt to the collage.

"The club is in total shock, just like the community," he said. "I think the feeling there is mainly for the Spence family. What most people don't realise is that Graham also played rugby. Graham played for us, came through the youth system, then came up through the under 20s and even played as high as the second XV. He was a good player too."

There were many well known faces. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited to sign, as did his erstwhile ministerial colleague at Stormont, former First Minister Ian Paisley.

Irish Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers also came to pay their respects.

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland is investigating the circumstances to establish a clear picture of how the tragedy unfolded.

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