A pensioner claims he could walk properly for the first time in years 10 minutes after obtaining a 4ft-tall statue of the Virgin Mary.

Grandfather Des Fitzgerald (82), of Greystones in Limerick city, recently purchased the statue to mark the centenary of the first apparitions in Fátima, Portugal.

He bought the blessed statue for €400 - but said he did not expect to receive a "miracle" as his health dramatically improved.

After alternating between using a wheelchair and a walking aid for a decade, he said his prayers had been answered.

"I hadn't the statue 10 minutes when I was able to walk fully. It was a miracle straight away. To prove it to myself, I walked out of the house, down to the gate and back up again. Before, I was barely able to stand up for a minute on my own," he told the 'Limerick Leader'.

Mr Fitzgerald, who has been overcome with emotion given the change in his circumstances, said he was afraid to wake up each morning in case he suddenly finds that his mobility has been impaired again.

"The excitement of the whole thing this past week has been absolutely unbelievable," said the former butcher and bookmaker.

A shrine, currently under construction, will be blessed by a number of priests later today, while a decade of the Rosary will be said at the site.

Fr Joe Young, formerly parish priest in Southill and the chaplain with the Brothers of Charity in Bawnmore, said while some people might be sceptical of the possibility of miracles occurring, he urged them to keep an open mind.

"When we close ourselves to the infinite possibilities that exist, we close down on a lot of areas of our lives that could do with rethinking. The unreflected life is a life not worth living," said Fr Young.

Fr Tom Mangan, parish priest in Donaghmore and a friend of Mr Fitzgerald's, said "any area of devotion or faith which is of help to people is worthy and very encouraging".