The Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, has pleaded with people not to attend funerals unless they are immediate family or very close friends of the deceased as the country battles the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Bishop Leahy said that on Friday and Saturday he had seen large crowds of people attending funerals, and shaking hands.

He said "It is going to be well nigh-on impossible to keep social distancing going in this situation, and we might well be contributing to the spread of the virus."

There are other ways people can express their condolences to the family of the deceased, he said, such as emails, texts or WhatsApp messages.

He suggested that families, when writing the death notice of their loved one, include in the notice that the funeral is private, clearly stating 'family only'.

Public attendance at mass was cancelled around the country last weekend as many parishes streamed services online instead.

Weddings, funerals and baptisms can continue as long as there are fewer than 100 people in the church, in accordance with government guidelines, while churches remain open for private prayer. 

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Phonsie Cullinan, has suggested that churches around the country should follow his diocese's lead and ring their bells tomorrow to mark St Patrick's Day.

"To celebrate our national patron, bells in the cathedral in Waterford and across the diocese in parish churches will be rung across 11am this St Patrick's Day" he said.

The Bishop added that he had "invited other bishops to have church bells rung at 11am across their dioceses on our national feast day" and his counterpart Bishop Denis Nulty, of Kildare and Leighlin, added his support to the idea.

Mass for Saint Patrick's Day will be broadcast live on RTÉ One/RTÉ Player and RTÉ Radio 1 Extra/Longwave 252.

Details of streaming for online services can be found here