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Brave, dignified and exemplary - Emma Spence tribute to dad and brothers she tried to save

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Emma Spence walks behind the hearses carrying her father, Noel, and two brothers, Graham and Nevin

Emma Spence walks behind the hearses carrying her father, Noel, and two brothers, Graham and Nevin

Essie Spence (centre, in black) is supported by her daughter-in-law Andrea, wife of Graham Spence and her daughter Emma Spence (far right) with
other family members at the funeral of her husband Noel Spence and sons Graham and Nevin at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, Co Down, yesterday

Essie Spence (centre, in black) is supported by her daughter-in-law Andrea, wife of Graham Spence and her daughter Emma Spence (far right) with other family members at the funeral of her husband Noel Spence and sons Graham and Nevin at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, Co Down, yesterday

The Service of Thanksgiving booklet for the three men

The Service of Thanksgiving booklet for the three men

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Ulster rugby captain Johann Muller
with teammate Stephen Ferris

Ulster rugby captain Johann Muller with teammate Stephen Ferris

Leinster's Dave Kearney

Leinster's Dave Kearney

reland and Ulster Rugby Hooker Rory Best

reland and Ulster Rugby Hooker Rory Best

Munster Wingforward Pater O Mahony

Munster Wingforward Pater O Mahony

Ulster Rugby's prop Tom Court

Ulster Rugby's prop Tom Court

Ulster Rugby player John Aofa (right with beard) and colleagues arrive at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down for the funeral service of Noel Spence, 68, and his sons Graham, 30, and Nevin, 22

Ulster Rugby player John Aofa (right with beard) and colleagues arrive at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down for the funeral service of Noel Spence, 68, and his sons Graham, 30, and Nevin, 22

Hearses carrying the coffins of Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and father Noel leave Ballynahinch Baptist Church

Hearses carrying the coffins of Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and father Noel leave Ballynahinch Baptist Church

Essie Spence (R), the widow of Noel and mother of Nevin and Graham Spence, walks with Graham's wife Andrea (C), behind the cortege after the funeral service at Ballynahinch Baptist Church

Essie Spence (R), the widow of Noel and mother of Nevin and Graham Spence, walks with Graham's wife Andrea (C), behind the cortege after the funeral service at Ballynahinch Baptist Church

Nevin Spence's coffin is covered with his Ulster Flag Jersey after his funeral service at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down. Photo: PA

Nevin Spence's coffin is covered with his Ulster Flag Jersey after his funeral service at Ballynahinch Baptist church, in Co Down. Photo: PA

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Emma Spence walks behind the hearses carrying her father, Noel, and two brothers, Graham and Nevin

SHE had summoned near superhuman strength in a desperate effort to save her father and two brothers, almost losing her own life in the process.

But yesterday, Emma Spence (28) stood at the tragic triple funeral of her loved ones and -- despite her grief and the trauma of the last week -- managed to pay a heartfelt and moving tribute to those she had lost.

Her voice shook but was clear and unwavering.

She remained in control as she quietly outlined exactly what father Noel (58) and her brothers Graham (30) and rising rugby star Nevin (22) had meant to her.

In a moving speech, she told how they were, "Godly men -- they didn't talk about God, they just did God. They were just ordinary -- but God made them extraordinary."

"They were gentlemen, they were hard-working men, they were best friends. They were not perfect but they were genuine," she said.

She recalled how her father Noel would sit and drink coffee from her mother's best china cup and listen to all her troubles, telling her the truth "whether I wanted to hear it or not".

Superstar

Graham loved Andrea and his two children -- "his little princess and his best mate" and had "50 apps on his phone to check the weather forecast", she said.

Her voice broke as she spoke of "Wee Nev -- the baby" who was teased at home as "the superstar" -- a grade A pupil whose mother treated him to "organic blackberries and prize-winning steak" when he called.

She spoke alone but insisted her words were those of each of the four women left devastated by the loss of Noel, Graham and Nevin.

As her mother, Essie, sister Laura and sister-in-law Andrea watched on inside Ballynahinch Baptist Church, the young artist showed the kind of fortitude that has sustained them all since Saturday's horrifying accident.

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Her composure was all the more remarkable as it came in the wake of the revelation she had tried to save her father and brothers twice during the incident at the family farm near Hillsborough, Co Down.

It emerged yesterday that the accident came about after Graham had lowered a ladder into the manhole of a slurry tank to retrieve a dog.

Edwin Poot, Northern Ireland Executive Minister -- a family friend -- told how Graham got into difficulty and Noel went to the rescue of his son, followed by Nevin.

Emma climbed down the manhole twice in a desperate bid to rescue them and managed to pull her father on to the ladder.

She then went to get Graham but was overcome by the toxic fumes and had to be pulled to safety by neighbours.

"Physically I don't know how she managed it because her father is a big man. With the weight of the slurry and so on, she needed to muster unbelievable strength to get him pulled up.

"And then she went back in again, risking her life a second time. It is maybe some comfort to the family that she didn't lose her life. She was incredibly brave," said Mr Poot.

Emma was treated in hospital but was sufficiently recovered to attend the funeral, which saw more than 2,000 people throng to the Baptist Church -- of which the Spence family are staunch members.

A blanket of silent sorrow fell over mourners at the church as, one by one, the three coffins were carried in the sunshine to the church door. It was a terrible and harrowing sight that almost took away the breath of all those gathered outside.

Bedecked with wreaths of red and orange flowers, each coffin was borne by six pallbearers who struggled under the weight of the body of a strong man cut down in his prime.

Mourners

The train of coffins was followed by the women of the family who held hands tightly, pausing for a brief moment outside the church to compose themselves before going in.

The service in the simple, brick church was as upbeat in mood as could be managed under the tragic circumstances and the lyrics of the Baptist music were uplifting and firmly focused on the afterlife.

The pall-bearers for Nevin's coffin were Ulster rugby stars Andrew Trimble, Willie Falloon, Paul and Luke Marshall, Chris Henry and Ian Whitten.

Amongst the mourners were Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, Ireland rugby coach Declan Kidney and former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan.

The many rugby players in attendance included Ulster rugby captain Johann Muller, Ireland prop Tom Court, Isaac Boss and Dave Kearney of Leinster and Peter O'Mahony and Simon Zebo of Munster.

Rev Rodney Stout said all three men had been "like three peas in a pod" and had left behind "as positive a legacy as any family could have".

To the sweet strains of 'I'll Fly Away,' many mourners wept as the coffins were taken from the church and the cortege moved slowly and quietly up the hill towards Lough Inch cemetery.


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