A star of Irish rugby has been killed alongside his brother and their father in a farming tragedy in Northern Ireland. The player’s sister was also injured in the incident.

Nevin Spence, 22, rose to prominence playing for Ulster Rugby and was a rising star in Ireland's international rugby scene but died after falling into a slurry tank.

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Nevin Spence died alongside his brother and father

Emergency crews went to the family farm in Drumlough Road outside Hillsborough, Co Down, shortly after 6pm on Saturday following reports that four people had fallen into the slurry pit.

Following a lengthy rescue operation it was confirmed that three men had died and a woman was taken to hospital for treatment for the inhalation of fumes.

Rugby players and fans paid tribute to the young player on social media as news emerged of his involvement in the tragedy.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said 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 was a member of the Ulster Rugby squad that reached the European Heineken cup final last season, and he was predicted to have a glittering international career ahead of him.

Lives have been lost in the past in accidents at other farm slurry tanks, but the scale of the latest tragedy caused widespread shock.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said it responded to a 999 call at about 6.15pm following reports that at least three people had fallen into a slurry tank.

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A poster left in memory of the three men who died

It said it immediately sent three rapid response paramedics, four accident and emergency vehicles and an ambulance service doctor to the scene.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service also attended and rescued four people from the slurry pit.

A spokesman for the ambulance service said: "Three were unconscious and NIAS paramedics commenced resuscitation efforts immediately assisted by other ambulance personnel.

"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."

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Fans pay their respects at the Ulster Rugby ground

The ambulance service said it extended its sympathies to those involved.

The Ulster Farmers' Union said the tragedy had shocked the entire farming community.

UFU president Harry Sinclair said; "On behalf of all our members, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family involved.

"This news has shocked the farming community. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the three men who have so tragically lost their lives.

"We understand that a fourth member of the family has been hospitalised and we pray that they will make a full recovery."

Tributes have poured in from across the rugby world and beyond for Mr Spence and his family.

His former Ulster team-mate Ian Humphreys said on Twitter: "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..."

Former Ireland and Munster hooker Jerry Flannery tweeted: "Terrible news on Nevin Spence, his Brother and their Dad. Offering up prayers for their family and friends, unbelievably sad."

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" and New Zealand rugby world cup winner Dan Carter tweeted: "Such sad news and my thoughts go out to his family".

Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy also tweeted his condolences, saying: "Just heard the tragic news of Nevin Spence and his family. Makes you cherish every day you have on this Earth".