The World of Sport – and in particular , the Ulster rugby community – is reeling today following the tragic death of young Ulster and Ireland U20 Rugby star Nevin Spence who died on Saturday evening along with brother Graham and father Noel in a slurry tank accident on the family farm in Hillsborough, County Down, some 10 miles from Belfast.
Sister Emma was also involved and taken to hospital where it is understood she is recovering as a result of inhaling fumes.
Though Police and Health & Safety Executive are still investigating , early reports suggest that family members may have been attempting to rescue a dog , before Nevin tried in vain effort to save his Dad and brother..
The Health and Safety Executive is to investigate the circumstances and establish a clearer picture of how the tragedy unfolded.
The local Fire Service pulled all four victims from the slurry pit.
A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “One of the four showed initial signs of responding to the efforts of the crews and was transported immediately to the nearby Lagan Valley Hospital, where unfortunately he died a short time later.
“Despite the best efforts of all involved the other two men died at the scene. A female was treated at the scene and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she is recovering from the effects of fume inhalation.”
He had lined out Ulster Ravens, Ulster’s second team, against Munster A on Friday
As well as having played for the Irish U20 side, Nevin had been a member of the Ireland training squad for last year’s Six Nations tournament.
In May 2012 , he was selected for the Ireland squad against the world famous Barbarians.
The former Wallace High School pupil, was first chosen by Ulster against the Ospreys in April 2010.
Prior to his Ulster debut he had come to the fore with Ballynahinch in 2009 playing a central role in their League and Cup winning season.
Throughout Saturday night and Sunday, rugby players, fans and politicians throughout Ireland and beyond paid tribute to Nevin Spence, among the many quoted by BBC NI and other media organisations were:
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said Saturday evening on Twitter “Deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy in Hillsborough this evening. My thoughts and prayers are with family at this time of devastation.”
Nevin Spence’s management company expressed their “deep regret” after the Ulster centre’s death in a farming accident.
Cornerflag Management, who represented Nevin Spence, released a statement saying: “It was with great sadness and deep regret that we learned of the sudden and tragic passing of Nevin, his father Noel and brother Graham in an accident on their family farm on Saturday afternoon.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Spence family at this extremely sad time.”
Welsh rugby legend Shane Williams said, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Nevin Spence. A tragic loss. A class act on the field also. RIP”.
New Zealand rugby world cup winner Dan Carter tweeted: “Such sad news and my thoughts go out to his family”.
From Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland rugby captain:
“Devastating news about Nevin Spence, his dad and brother.
“What a wonderful talent he was. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
Ulster Rugby CEO, Shane Logan :
“I am deeply saddened by this tragic news. Nevin was a wonderful player but also a wonderful person.
“He was well liked by everyone who knew him and his loss will be deeply felt by his teammates and everyone at Ulster Rugby.”
Billy Glynn, president of the Irish Rugby Football Union
“Nevin was an outstanding young player which was evident from his progression through the representative ranks and the game has been robbed of a very talented young man.
“The rugby community in Ireland is a very close knit one and there has been widespread shock and an outpouring of grief at this news.”
Rory McIlroy, golfer
“Just heard the tragic news of Nevin Spence and his family. Makes you cherish every day you have on this Earth.”
Barry McGuigan, former WBA featherweight boxing titleholder:
“Tragic news about Nevin Spence and his family, in County Down, Northern Ireland. My deepest heart felt sympathy to his family.”
From Tyrone GAA:
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends in Ulster Rugby. God bless the family and friends of Nevin Spence, his brother and dad.”
Former Ulster colleague Ian Humphreys, now with London Irish
“Devastated to hear the news about Nevin Spence and his brother and dad.
Prayers with all his family… RIP Nev, you’ll never be forgotten.”
Ben Foden, England rugby international
“RIP Nevin Spence and his father and brother. Thoughts are with his family, friends and team-mates at Ulster. Such a tragic accident.”
George North, Wales international
“Horrendous news about Nevin Spence and family. Thoughts are with friends and family.”