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Why Sligo should be promoted as a mecca for Westlife fans

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Westlife fans who travelled from Sweden to check out the band's strong Sligo links, pictured with special souvenirs and a map of the town to help them find their destinations - l-r, Kristina Johansson, Andre Karlsson and Anna Johansson.

Westlife fans who travelled from Sweden to check out the band's strong Sligo links, pictured with special souvenirs and a map of the town to help them find their destinations - l-r, Kristina Johansson, Andre Karlsson and Anna Johansson.

Asian Westlife fans pictured in the Record Room, Sligo, where they stocked up on souvenirs, Shinobu Ishihara, who travelled from her home in Osaka, Japan especially to see Westlife's home town; and Yordahwan Phadoonghit from Thailand, who lives in Sligo. 			       Pics by Carl Brennan

Asian Westlife fans pictured in the Record Room, Sligo, where they stocked up on souvenirs, Shinobu Ishihara, who travelled from her home in Osaka, Japan especially to see Westlife's home town; and Yordahwan Phadoonghit from Thailand, who lives in Sligo. Pics by Carl Brennan

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Westlife fans who travelled from Sweden to check out the band's strong Sligo links, pictured with special souvenirs and a map of the town to help them find their destinations - l-r, Kristina Johansson, Andre Karlsson and Anna Johansson.

By Jim Gray In much the same way as Liverpool draws Beatles fans from all corners of the globe who want to retrace the early steps of the Fab Four, Sligo is becoming something of a mecca for Westlife followers, many of whom descended on the town last week during the band's sell-out run of concerts at The Point in Dublin.

Hundreds of fans jetted into Dublin from all over Europe for the Point concerts, and many of them took the opportunity to journey to Sligo to see the birthplace of and local landmarks associated with Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan.

Kristina Johansson, Andre Karlsson and Anna Johansson made the journey from Sweden, and were very excited to be in the home town of Westlife.

"We came over for the Dublin concert and decided that since we were in Ireland we could not go home without visiting Sligo, where Westlife began", explained Kristina.

"We have been to see the homes of Shane and Kian, and we have been told that Mark once worked in a local pizza shop, so now we're off to track that down".

Andre revealed that Westlife enjoy a huge following in his home country, and said it was special to be able to see the band perform in Dublin while also being able to visit Sligo.

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"It would be a real bonus to meet the boys or members of their families, but just to be here and to see the places associated with the band is a real thrill", he said.

Another visitor on a Westlife trek to Sligo this week was 30 years old Shinobu Ishihara, who travelled all the way from Osaka, Japan, especially to sample the Westlife roots at first hand.

She had bought tickets on the internet for three of the Dublin concerts, and travelled by train to Sligo on Friday last.

"I just had to come and see where Westlife started", she said. "The band has a huge following in Japan, and I had no hesitation in making the long journey just to see them perform and to see where they were born", Shinobu told us before booking a taxi to take her off in search of Westlife landmarks.

A Scottish family were particularly lucky, as their excursion brought them face to face with two of their heroes.

Kevin Flannery of The Record Room, which has itself become an essential drop-in centre for the visiting Westlife fans, tells the story: "A mother and her two teenage daughters were in the shop asking where they might go to see some Westlife landmarks, so I gave them a list of places worth seeing. They took a taxi out to see Shane's new house at Carraroe, and as they were there, Shane pulled up in his car, got out and chatted to them, signed autographs and posed for pictures.

"They must have thought they were in heaven, but it got even better, because when they went out to see Kian Egan's family home, Kian came out to greet them as well.

"They came to the shop the next day to tell me how they got on, and they were absolutely thrilled. It was clearly an amazing experience for them".

Not all fans are so lucky, of course, but it doesn't stop them coming to Sligo. According to Mr. Flannery, who keeps a record of the visits to his store of Westlife followers, there is a definite tourism opening attached to the group's association with Sligo.

"In the past month alone, we've had Westlife fans here from Scotland, England, Wales, Japan, Germany, Holland and the USA, as well as from all over Ireland.

"They buy anything associated with the group, and they all want directions to places such as St. Anne's Youth Club, where the boys played their first gig as Westlife, or the Hawk's Well where IOYou performed, and, of course, they all want to see the family homes.

"Westlife really is a big tourist attraction, and I'm not sure that the town makes the most of it. It's something that maybe could be promoted a lot more", he says.


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