Locals describe seedy scene with “open air orgies” next to a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ballyphehane, Cork City.

Thousands of Irish people claim to have witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the skies over Knock shrine in Co Mayo.

About 5,000 people gathered at the holy Catholic shrine earlier this month amid a Dublin-based clairvoyant's predictions that an apparition would appear on October 11.

They reported that they could see images of the Virgin Mary shimmering in the sky as the sun danced nearby.

Another apparition has been predicted by the same clairvoyant, Joe Coleman, for this weekend and several thousand people are expected to make the pilgrimage to Knock.

Mr Coleman claimed: “I have seen her twice in recent months in the Gable chapel at Knock. The statue comes alive, she opens her arms, a lovely pink cloak comes around her, there are stars above her head, she turned into Jesus, then to Padre Pio and then back to herself. While the vision is happening, I can see nothing else in the chapel.

“She has told me she wants to make the biggest statement she has ever made on this earth. Knock is the spiritual heart of Ireland.”

Now, Catholic officials have moved to clamp down on the claims saying the faithful are in danger of being misled.

Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary has said the gatherings at the Mayo pilgrimage site should be discouraged because they could undermine faith in Ireland.

"Unfortunately, recent events at the shrine obscure this essential message. They risk misleading God’s people and undermining faith," he said.

"Such events are to be regretted rather than encouraged. The shrine of Knock will be best served by retaining its authentic identity."

"Such faith makes Knock pilgrims firm in hope and active in love for the sick and suffering. They do not expect visions or seek further apparitions," he said.

The shrine dates back to August 1879 when local people said they saw apparitions of Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist outside a parish church there.

The archbishop said there were huge differences between the apparitions of 1879 and what, if anything, was happening now.

"The apparition of 1879 was neither sought nor expected by the humble, honest people who were its astonished witnesses. Their faith reveals the patience and humility that characterises true belief. The shrine of Knock is living witness to that faith," he said.