Up to 3,000 people have visited St Mel's Cathedral in Longford as it opened to the public for the first time since it was destroyed in a fire nearly two years ago.

Parishioners surveyed the damage caused by the devastating blaze, which broke out on Christmas Day 2009.

Parish priest Fr Tom Healy said today was the first time parishioners could fully understand the extent of the damage and it was quite emotional for them. He said they had had a tremendous response.

Fr Healy said it would take five years to fully restore the church and they were hoping to have it open again for Christmas 2014.

He said the initial period was spent carrying out emergency works to make the building safe, while they are now moving on to the design and planning stage, with the aim of starting to build next summer.

Fr Healy declined to say how much the restoration would cost as he said it was commercially sensitive.

It would be a multi-million euro project and while insurance would cover most of the cost, they would need to fundraise for a further couple of million.