Bouquets and bows for Mick, always a hard act to follow. . .
TRIBUTES have flooded in for veteran actor and Irish icon Mick Lally who died suddenly yesterday at the age of 64 after a short stay in hospital.
The Co Mayo native became a household name thanks to his role as the gormless but loveable character Miley in the long-running RTE soap opera 'Glenroe'.
Yesterday his onscreen wife Biddy, actress Mary McEvoy, broke down in tears as she said his passing marks "the end of an era".
The pair were due to reunite on stage next week for a run of the John B Keane play 'The Matchmaker' at the Mill Theatre in Dublin.
"I'll remember him as a companion during the happiest days of my life. He was a very, very good friend, but, with Mick, all my memories are good ones," she said.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, director Garry Hynes, who founded the Druid Theatre Company with Lally and actress Marie Mullen in 1975, said she was shocked at the sudden loss of her long-time friend and "hero".
"In those early days of Druid, whenever we wanted to figure something out, the three of us would sit down together. I completely looked up to him. I regarded him as a rock of sense and intelligence.
"He was terrific, absolutely wonderful. An impressive singer, poet, storyteller. He would find the fun in anything and was passionate about things.
"He was the essence of life and it's very hard to accept he's gone."
As news of his death broke yesterday morning, fans left bouquets of flowers outside the Druid's Galway home.
Actor Gabriel Byrne, who starred alongside him in the TV drama 'Bracken', a forerunner to 'Glenroe', said he last saw him a few months ago at his birthday party in Dublin.
"Mick gave everything to every role he played, whether it was on stage or on screen . . . his unique self," the Hollywood star said. "When you saw Mick Lally perform, you knew that you were watching something that nobody else had, it was out of the soul of Mick."
Another 'Bracken' actor, Niall Toibin, said: "It didn't matter what he was playing, they (audiences) would believe the part. People identified with him and thought 'he was part of us'."
Leading tributes from the political world, Taoiseach Brian Cowen described Lally as one of the most-loved actors of his generation whose "genius at capturing and portraying the essence of the characters he played" endeared him to audiences and critics alike.
Culture Minister Mary Hanafin said while Lally would forever be associated with the character of Miley, he was never one to be typecast.
"His wonderful ability to communicate with his audience, whether in the intimate setting in the early days of the Druid, on stage in the National Theatre or in the sitting rooms of homes every Sunday . . . playing the character of Miley in 'Glenroe', Lally was an integral part of the world of acting and, by extension, our society."
Glen Killane, managing director of RTE Television, said Lally's great skill as an actor was apparent in the "pure, naturalistic believability of the loveable character" of Miley.
Chairman of the Arts Council, Pay Moylan, said the theatre community was mourning the loss of a "talented and dedicated professional who worked in all the major theatres in the country".
Lally was also a vocal campaigner on a number of social issues and joined striking Dunnes Stores workers on their anti-apartheid demonstrations in 1985. He also campaigned for a 'Yes' vote in the divorce referendum a decade later.
President of the Irish Human Rights Commission, Dr Maurice Manning, described the actor as a "vigorous promoter and defender of human rights".
Lally is survived by his wife, Peige, their three children, Saileog, Maghnus and Darach, and his parents.
The youngest of seven children, Mr Lally was born in 1945 and raised on the family farm in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo. He studied at University College, Galway, and worked as a teacher for six years before establishing the Druid in 1975.
The father-and-son team of Dinny and Miley Byrne was first created for 'Bracken', which was written by Wesley Burrowes. Just 12 episodes of the show were broadcast in 1980.
But the characters were resurrected for Mr Burrowes' next creation, 'Glenroe', which aired in 1983. Lally was one of only four actors to last the entire 18-year course of the show.
John Toner, owner of Glenroe Farm in Co Wicklow where much of the show was shot, remembered Lally as an "absolute gentleman" who didn't have the "airs and graces" of many high-profile actors.
"I never, ever saw Mick in bad form, he was always happy," he said.