Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 26 May 2016

Spence family tragedy: One year on Emma tells of 'difficult time' after losing father and brothers

Sister of tragic rugby star Nevin speaks of family's grief at event

By Patricia Devlin

Published 15/09/2013

Emotional speech: Sister Emma
Emotional speech: Sister Emma
Tributes: Nevin Spence died in the slurry tank accident a year ago, as did his father Noel and brother Graham
Ulster fans have a minute applause for the anniversary of Nevin Spence

The sister of rising rugby star Nevin Spence who was killed with his father and brother in a slurry tank tragedy has told of this ‘difficult’ weekend for her family.

Today marks one year since the triple farm tragedy in which Spence brothers Nevin, 22, Graham, 30, and 52-year-old dad

Noel lost their lives.

The men died after falling inside a slurry tank at their home in Hillsborough, Co Down.

Yesterday sister Emma Rice — who miraculously survived the September 15 accident after desperately attempting to save their lives — attended a special coffee morning in memory of the three men where she spoke of the family's grief.

Hundreds packed out Ballynahinch Rugby Club for the event, which raised cash for the Irish Rugby Football Union Charitable Trust (IRFU).

She brought along her nephew, son of tragic brother Graham, a mini player for the Co Down rugby club.

Richard Hart, Honorary Secretary of Ballynahinch Rugby Club, said Emma was comforted by the support shown at yesterday's event.

“It was a fantastic day where we had over 200 minis, their parents and those coming for the Spence family all in attendance — the hall was packed out,” he told Sunday Life.

“The dual purpose of the event was to mark the one-year anniversary of the Spence tragedy and also raise funds for the IRFU.”

“Emma came along with her nephew, who is one of our minis here, and in total we raised around £1,500.

“I got chatting to her, and by her own admission this is a very difficult weekend.

“But she has been comforted by the support from the community and the club.”

Mr Hart revealed how the club, which launched Nevin's successful career, had seen a “10 to 20 per cent” increase in young players joining since the tragedy.

A service takes place today at Ballynahinch Baptist Church to mark one year since the men's deaths.

Friends of tragic rugby centre Nevin will turn out in their Ulster Rugby shirts in tribute to the 22-year-old.

On Friday Nevin’s former rugby team mates paid tribute to him at Ravenhill rugby stadium ahead of Ulster’s clash with Glasgow. Cheers and applause filled the stadium as a tribute was read out across the tannoy to fans and players.

The 2012 tragedy occurred after Nevin’s father Noel went into the tank to try to retrieve the family’s pet dog. After realising their father was in trouble, Graham, Nevin and Emma tried to pull him from the pit — but each was overcome by fumes.

Emma, an acclaimed artist, later told mourners at their funerals that her father and brothers were “gentlemen”.

“They were hardworking men. They were not perfect but they were genuine. They were best friends,” she said.

She also said her brother, “wee Nev”, was sarcastically nicknamed ‘the Superstar’ at home.

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