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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 January 2006, 10:41 GMT
Top speller takes TV words trophy
Niall O'Neill
Niall O'Neill spelt his way to the top
A teenager from County Antrim has been named the best speller in the UK after winning the BBC's Hard Spell contest.

One hundred thousand school children, between the ages of 11 and 13, from across the UK took part in the contest. But Ballymena 13-year-old Niall O'Neill lifted the title after battling it out in the final on New Year's Eve.

"It was nerve-wracking, it was terrible, but you get used to it you just had to tune it out - and keep calm," he said.

Months of effort helped Niall, with the staff at his grammar school, St Louis, helping train him in advance of the contest.

He made it to the final 30, spelling words many find it hard even to pronounce.

Teacher Mary McKinley said support from the teenager's family played a crucial part in his success.

Headmaster Frank Cassidy
Headmaster Frank Cassidy said Niall is a local hero

"Niall put in an awful lot of hard work himself at home, his mother particularly spent hours every evening going through a certain number of pages out of the 5,000 word list with him," she said.

"And we worked with him in school the next day every break-time for a couple of months."

Niall made it to the the final two and managed to take the trophy as well as 10,000 of holiday vouchers for all the family and media equipment for his school.

Headmaster Frank Cassidy said that Niall had become a school celebrity.

"Niall has become a local hero," he said.

"As he walks along the corridors the children stop him and congratulate him and even the cheeky ones will ask him to spell hard words."


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