Nevin Spence's sister gives moving tribute as Trinity College Dublin honours Ulster rugby star
The sister who desperately tried to save Nevin Spence from a horrific slurry tank accident has described him as a "hard-working, honest and genuine man" in her first public appearance since the inquest.
Emma Rice (29) twice entered the slurry tank on their family farm near Hillsborough after fumes overcame the Ulster rugby star (22), his father Noel (58) and brother Graham (30), but was unable to save them.
She passed out and fell back into the tank herself before being rescued by a neighbour.
Mrs Rice was accepting an award from Trinity College, Dublin, presented by rugby star Ollie Campbell. Nevin was being inducted into its sports and ethics hall of fame.
She said Nevin had given 100% in everything he had done: "Whether that was on the rugby pitch at Ravenhill, or on Monday mornings in the weights' gym. As my mum put it when he was alive – and repeats even more in the past year – Nevin was special."
Mrs Rice was accompanied by her sister Laura (27). She said Nevin continued to influence all those who were lucky enough to have known him.
"I've heard it said that Nevin and Graham and dad have spoken more in death than in life. And he did leave a lasting impression on all who knew him," she said.
At the event on Saturday, Dr John Scally of Trinity's theology department described Mrs Rice and her brother as heroes. "Too often that term is overused in sport but not in this case.
"Greater love hath no man than to give his life for another," he said.
Mr Campbell said he was "humbled and privileged" to be making the posthumous presentation and described Mrs Rice as "talented, courageous and heroic". She received a standing ovation after accepting the award.
The inquest earlier this year heard how the tragic events unfolded on September 15 last year after Graham entered the tank to rescue a collie dog that had fallen in.
Emma told senior coroner John Leckey that she knew how dangerous it was to go into the pit.
"When it comes to the love of your family, it doesn't matter."
After helping to pull her father from the pit, Mrs Rice passed out and fell back into the slurry as she tried to bring Graham to safety. The coroner said Mrs Rice's actions were "extremely brave".
A firefighter wearing specialist breathing equipment later found both Nevin and the dog at the bottom of the tank. Despite frantic efforts to revive the men, Nevin and Noel Spence died at the scene, with Graham declared dead in hospital a short time later.
Fire Service group commander Dermot Rooney told the inquest that an individual should only enter such a confined space in exceptional circumstances, and then only with the aid of breathing equipment.
Last month, thousands of Ulster Rugby fans marked the anniversary of the death of Nevin Spence (right) with a minute of applause ahead of the team's clash with Glasgow at Ravenhill stadium. A new education and heritage centre being built as part of a £14.7m redevelopment of Ulster's home ground is to be named the Nevin Spence Centre.