Westlife's Shaun Filan and Citroen J-WRC star Shaun Gallagher helped officially launch Rally Ireland 2009 this week in Sligo.

Ireland will have the honour of opening the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship season at the end of January, the first time in almost 30 years that the WRC has kicked off its year outside of Monte Carlo, the traditional starting point.

At the launch Dr. Jimmy Devins, T.D., Minister for State for Science and Innovation, hailed the event's return to the North West.

"2007's Rally Ireland was seen by more than 62 million people in over 180 countries worldwide. The potential for the North West to position itself, as a major tourist destination through this level of coverage is very significant," he stated.

"Rally Ireland 2007 was a huge success due to the organisers, the local community here and the thousands of fans who witnessed this tremendous sport. I have every confidence that Rally Ireland 2009 will be another major success."

"We are delighted to host the World Rally Championships in January 2009 and to have rally headquarters here in Sligo City," continued chairman of Failte Ireland North West, Mr Paschal Mooney.

"We can assure all visitors that they will have the experience of their lives and we hope they will share the joys and memories of their visit here with their loved ones when they go home.

"The North West has largely been untouched by mass tourism and her beauty spots remain intact. In recent years, we have seen major investment in tourism products and the range of accommodation and facilities available to the visitor is second to none."

Rally Ireland 2009 will run between January 29 and February 1 and it will include 18 stages in total run through seven counties in the North West - namely Cavan, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Sligo, Donegal and Roscommon.

"The success of Rally Ireland 2007 was recognised by the WRC when we were given the honour of hosting the opening round of the 2009 Championship. Across the region festivals are being organised and this event will once again provide fans with the opportunity to see the world's top rally drivers battling the testing stages in the North West and all for free," summed-up John Naylor, Event Director for Rally Ireland 2009.