Sister's tribute at Spence funeral

First published in National News © by

A woman who bravely tried in vain to rescue her father and two brothers - one of them a star rugby player - when they were overcome by killer fumes has paid an emotional tribute to them at their funeral.

Emma Spence twice climbed into a manhole and then down into a slurry tank on the family farm near Hillsborough, Co Down, where her father Noel, 58, and brothers, Graham, 30, and Ulster Rugby player Nevin, 22, all died at the weekend.

"They were gentlemen," Miss Spence told mourners at nearby Ballynahinch Baptist Church, adding: "They were hard-working men. They were not perfect but they were genuine. They were just ordinary - but God made them extraordinary."

Miss Spence, who was admitted to hospital after Saturday's accident, was accompanied by her sister Laura, their mother Essie and Graham's wife Andrea at the funeral service.

Members of the Ulster Rugby team carried Nevin's coffin into and out of the church.

Irish rugby coach Declan Kidney and Tyrone Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte were among other well-known sporting faces amid more than 2,000 people who attended.

It is understood the tragedy unfolded when Graham lowered a ladder into the manhole to retrieve a pet dog which disappeared into the slurry tank.

Graham's father then went in to try to save his son and he was followed by Nevin when he realised the other two were in danger from the poisonous slurry fumes.

Miss Spence, an artist, then went down and managed to pull her father on to the ladder where she was assisted by neighbours.

They immediately tried to resuscitate Noel. Miss Spence went back a second time and found Graham in the tank lying in two to three feet of slurry but was overcome by the odourless fumes and had to be pulled free by the neighbours who ran to the tank after hearing the calls for help.

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