Northern Ireland

Nevin Spence memorial: Fans mourn 'brightest and best'

Crowds at Ravenhill
Image caption Crowds gathered at Ravenhill Rugby ground for the service

Thousands of rugby fans have taken part in a memorial service for Ulster player Nevin Spence at Belfast's Ravenhill grounds.

Nevin, 22, his brother, Graham, 30, and their father, Noel, 58, were overcome by slurry gas at their farm in Hillsborough last Saturday.

Ulster rugby chaplain Rev Andrew Thompson said they mourned the loss of one of "our brightest and best".

He said the deaths of the three men was "an unspeakable tragedy".

It had left a whole community in shock and disbelief, he said, but people were standing "shoulder to shoulder".

"Today we come in pain and sorrow to stand up for one proud Ulsterman. Or rather three," he told between 5,000 and 6,000 fans who crowded into the grounds for the service.

"Whilst the main focus is to remember Nevin, we are mindful of his father and brother. These three men shared so much in life and were united in death."

Ulster rugby captain Johann Muller and scrum half Paul Marshall read from the Bible.

Ulster and Ireland hooker Rory Best paid a personal tribute.

He said there had been a "huge outpouring of emotion" throughout the entire rugby world.

"There are no words that I can add that have not been spoken about Nevin this week," he said.

"Nevin's love for the game of rugby and his positive attitude was infectious," he said, adding that he had won more than 40 caps for Ulster.

"The mark Nevin left runs deeper than rugby." He said his fondest memories were of Nevin's sense of humour.

"Nev would tell a ridiculous joke and then be beaming from ear to ear. No-one could work out whether he was a comic genius or told really bad jokes.

"He would give the boys tips on their love life.

" 'All you need is a girl who looks like Cindy Crawford and is able to calf a cow in the middle of the night,' he'd joke."

Rory Best added: "The entire Spence family all shared Nevin's humility, bravery and determination. These traits set him apart on our squad."

Image caption Nevin Spence was described as one of the "brightest and best"

His "relentless positive attitude" was a testament to his upbringing and to the man himself.

"Nevin was a team player, the sort of player every team needs but few are lucky enough to find.

"His memory will continue to shape Ulster rugby for years to come. Nev, we will miss you but we will never forget you," he said.

Members of the Munster, Leinster and Connacht squads were at the service - among them Irish rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll and Ireland and Munster player Paul O'Connell.

The capella choir made of up 50 young people from Nevin's old school, Wallace High, led the singing.

A book of condolence will remain open on Sunday for those wishing to leave expressions of sympathy, and then given to the Spence family.

The accident at the farm on Drumlough Road in Hillsborough is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI).

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