Spences remembered as 'Godly men'


Ballynahich Baptist Church was thronged with mourners with several hundred more standing outside in the sunshine this afternoon as they gathered for the funerals of the three members of the Spence family.

People from the sporting, farming and political world joined friends and neighbours of the Spences in the Co Down town to offer solidarity and sympathy and to remember the lives of Noel Spence and his two children Graham and Nevin.

The three men died in a slurry tank accident on the family farm near Hillsborough on Saturday. The family said they perished "trying to help one another" after Noel (58) went to retrieve a pet dog.

The chief mourners today included Noel's wife, Esme, their daughters Emma - who survived the tragedy - and Laura. The chief mourners also included

Graham's wife Andrea, mother of Nathan and Georgia.

The church grounds presented a poignant sight, with three hearses parked outside as the Rev Rodney Stout conducted the thanksgiving service for the lives of the three men.

The pall-bearers for Nevin's coffin were current and former Ulster rugby players Andrew Trimble, Paul and Luke Marshall, Chris Henry, Ian Whitten and Willie Falloon. Ulster player Nevin was viewed as a future Ireland international and Declan Kidney was among the mourners.

During the service, Emma Spence paid a moving tribute to her father and brothers.

“They were gentlemen,” she told mourners. “They were hard-working men. They were not perfect but they were genuine. They were best friends.

“They were Godly men - they didn’t talk about God, they just did God. They were just ordinary - but God made them extraordinary.”

She said her father was a man who would listen to her every word and tell her the truth - "whether I wanted to hear it or not".

Graham was the one "who adored his Andrea and his kids...and who came to life when talking about farming" while "Wee Nev" was the "baby" of the family "who did not love the limelight but handled it like a pro".

His mother always had her "organic blackberries and prize-winning steak ready for when he called".

Rev Stout said the Spences were among "the most gracious and loving and caring people I have ever met".

The three men were like "three peas in a pod”, he said.

"What these men have left behind is as positive a legacy as any family could have," added Rev Stout.

The Irish Rugby Football Union has requested flags at all club grounds be flown at half mast, and there will be a minute’s silence before the start of Leinster and Munster’s home PRO12 games on Saturday evening after which fans will be invited to sing the Ulster supporters' anthem, Stand Up For The Ulster Men.

Johann Muller, the Ulster captain and one of four South Africans on the squad, yesterday said the memory of Nevin Spence (22), one of the team’s centres and a potential future full Irish international, would last forever.

He declared: “Players will move on or retire and new players will come in and represent the province. But going forward, at Ulster rugby, one thing will never change. As long as this great club exists, the person and the player, Nevin Spence, will never be forgotten.”

Ulster fans will pay their own tribute at a special memorial service at Ravenhill, Belfast, the home ground, on Sunday afternoon.

Additional reporting: PA

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