The Wexford Has Talent final lived up to its billing, and its name, at a packed function room in Clayton Whites Hotel on Saturday night.
For the second year in a row, a Wexford town singer/songwriter claimed the top prize of €2,000 cash in the Wexford People-sponsored talent competition run as a fundraiser by the Sarsfields GAA Club.
CBS secondary school fifth year student Luke Spellacy-Shaw, aged 17, followed in the footsteps of 2018 winner, Rachel Grace, as a stunning, guitar-driven performance of his own song 'Wrong Turn' stole the show, and the hearts of the four judges, Aileen Donohoe, Carmel Corish Wallace, Edward McCarthy and Eric Hayes.
Luke, a stage natural who has been playing guitar for around eleven years, won his first talent competition in 2013 at primary school in Scoil Mhuire, Coolcotts. Last year he released his debut album 'Wise Words' and a trio of singles.
Kildare teenager, Marby Arriola, who made it to the battle rounds of The Voice Kids UK in 2017, earned one of the €500 runner-up prizes with her storming, alternative version of Adele smash, 'Rolling In The Deep'.
With a routine choreographed by Tara O'Brien, nine 9- to 12-year-olds from the Sheila Grace Dance Company calling themselves Sirius claimed the other runner-up prize. In the most colourful costumes of the night, Milly Connick, Alannah Hotca, Jane Duggan, Chloe Kelly, Sophie Doyle, Shannon Codd, Hayley Sheil, Lilly Reville and Ericka Todurchuk delivered an exuberant and timed-to-perfection crowd pleaser.
Emotions were high at the start of the evening as Sarsfields honoured John Harrington, the club stalwart and former Wexford footballer who was taken all too soon just short of a month ago. MC George Lawlor told the audience that 'Big Harry' would have been among the Sars volunteers manning the doors on final night, but 'sadly, it was not to be'.
He welcomed members of John's family to the auditorium before joining Noel Murphy and Tony Carty in a powerful 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters' as a slideshow of pictures from the life of John Harrington scrolled though on the big screens to the sides of the stage. It was a fitting tribute to the gentle giant, echoing the sentiments of Alan Aherne, the Sarsfield PRO and People Newspapers sports editor, who wrote in a programme salute: 'It's the least we can do to honour the memory of our dearly-loved and sadly-departed hero'.
Fifteen acts had made it through from the auditions and semi-finals to this year's grand final of Wexford Has Talent, which has been running since 2015 as a major fundraiser for Wexford town's only senior gaelic football club. On a break from councillor duties, George Lawlor struck all the right notes as master of ceremonies, his witty banter with the contestants and good-natured ribbing of the judges adding to the night's entertainment.
Bannow lab technician, Adi Roche-O'Leary had the unenviable task of being first up, but her rendition of 'Proud Mary', Tina Turner style, was a great opener and a positive litmus test for the feast of entertainment to follow.
18-year-old Jack Gladney, who arrived onstage from just over the Wexford border in St Mullins, made the Dixie Chicks' country chart hit 'Travellin' Soldier' his own, pulling off that rare trick of a seemingly effortless performance.
While classy Bunclody singer Anya Furlong scaled the heights of 'Climb Every Mountain', the Gym Stars - Aoife, Alison, Abby, Mair(maya) and Eva from Gymstars Gymnastics Club in Barntown - literally climbed to dizzying heights in a mesmerising display that drew oohs and aahs from everyone in the audience. Afterwards MC George wished them well in their ambitions to qualify for the European Championships in Israel in October.
Presentation Wexford fifth year student Evey Roche displayed a beautiful vocal on 'I Have Nothing' while a super seven from the Sullivan School of Irish Dancing (Sienna Moran, Lilly Mai Garry, Anna Jeffares, Ella Grant, Katie O'Connor, Annie Kelly, and Aoife Hore) wrapped up the first half of the night with a toe-tapping, hand-clapping sequence to a couple of songs from The Greatest Showman, delivered with immaculate timing.
Tomhaggard teen Caoimhe Troy, who won best female at the national Bord Gais Energy Student Theatre Awards in 2016, for her role in Kilmore National School's production of The Lion King Junior, was outstanding on The Greatest Showman's 'Never Enough'.
The night's youngest solo performer, 10-year-old Éabha Keane from Murrintown, wowed the crowd with an unusual combination of Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colours' and Avicii's 'Wake Me Up', accompanying herself on a plugged-in ukulele, á la Grace Vanderwaal.
Had there been a costume prize, Evan Roche would have been a shoe-in.
The Taghmon youngster who reached the last 60 - out of 12,000 - in preliminary rounds of The Voice Kids UK, was a convincing Sia, complete with black and white wig covering the eyes, as he wrapped his flexible vocal chords around 'Cheap Thrills'.
In the opinion of judges Aileen Donohoe and Eric Hayes, Emma Byrne from Clonroche outdid the original on her version of Freya Ridings' best known song 'Lost Without You', a judgment that went down a treat with the many supporters of the former Loreto Wexford student, now studying to become a primary school teacher.
Kerry lady Patrice McGillycuddy, a teacher at Barntown NS for almost a decade, and a former Abu Dhabi Rose, gave a polished and heartfelt performance of Sara McLachlan's 'Angel', as well as a lesson in stagecraft.
The final ended on a top note, with a lively and foot-perfect routine to 'It's Raining Men' from a Wexford School of Ballet and Performing Arts group (Alex Saunders, Aoise Davis, Emma O'Leary, Ellen Murphy, Eabha Carty, Beth Miller, Sadhbh Neville, and April Roche Kelly). Colourful umbrellas, sparkling costumes and a pyrotechnic popper contributed to the perfect conclusion to a wonderful Wexford Has Talent final.
As the judges ruminated over what must have been an almost impossible decision, last year's worthy Wexford Has Talent winner Rachel Grace entertained with three self-penned songs, showing a talent Wexford should be so proud of.
The sellout show had run off with clockwork efficiency and organisation, a testament to the work of an army of Sarsfields volunteers whose attention to detail leaves the efforts of some professional outfits in the shade.
Before the announcement of the winners, Sarsfields chairman Enda Whelan revealed that People Newspapers had agreed to another three-year Wexford People Wexford Has Talent sponsorship deal, to great applause.
A delighted winner Luke Spellacy-Shaw had a big hug from his mum as parents Donna and Darren joined him onstage for the celebrations, and then 'everybody cut footloose' as Luke turned Kenny Loggins to lead all the contestants in an unplanned but very apt 'Footloose' finale. Roll on 2020!