Extraordinarily gifted and a big-hearted man

COLLEAGUES from the worlds of theatre and television have paid tribute to actor Mick Lally, who died yesterday morning, aged 64.

Lally was best known to many for his role as Miley Byrne in the television series Glenroe, which ran on RTÉ One from 1983 to 2001. The actor and theatre director Alan Stanford, who played George in the series, recalled yesterday that Lally’s performance had made Miley “the best- loved man in Ireland”.

In 1975 he helped found Druid theatre in Galway with Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen in 1975.

“Mick had planned to go to England to work for the summer,” Hynes recalled yesterday. “When we asked him to act in our first show, he said he’d take a few days to think about it. And then, of course, he became so involved he applied for a leave of absence from teaching that autumn.”

Lally never returned to teaching, instead playing countless roles at Druid and at theatres all over the country. “I don’t think anyone else has performed in so many venues in Ireland,” said Hynes, who has served as artistic director at Druid since its foundation — apart from 1991–’94, when Maeliosa Stafford was at the helm.

Hynes added that Lally had also made a huge contribution to Irish language theatre.

“The last time I worked with Mick was in Druid Synge in 2005. He played Conor the King and a number of other roles.”

Alan Stanford recalled of Lally that “he was very well read, and had a great love of language. I think he had the most beautiful speaking voice I’ve ever heard — I have very little Irish, but I could have listened to him speak it all day”.

Stanford recalled that the role for which Lally is best known — that of Miley Byrne in Glenroe — began as a minor character in the TV series Bracken, starring Gabriel Byrne. “When Miley left Bracken to go to England, the nation went into grief. Wesley Burrowes, the writer, persuaded RTÉ that Miley should have a series of his own, and the wisest thing RTÉ ever did was to commission Glenroe.

“Miley was a great character,” he added. “He was not a fool, he was not stupid, just uneducated. When my own character, George, was introduced to Glenroe, he was English and educated, and had a big house, but he and Miley always spoke as equals.”

Lally’s last role on stage was in the part of Dicky Mick Dicky O’Connor in John B Keane’s The Matchmaker at the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork. Pat Talbot, artistic director of the Everyman, said of Lally’s final performance on August 14: “He showed enormous professionalism by insisting he perform despite his illness.

“This was consistent with the grit and flintiness he brought to the characters he played. Mick made many appearances at the Everyman Palace over the years, most notably in the first production of Martin McDonagh’s, A Skull in Connemara in 1997.

“Mick was a lovely, extraordinarily gifted and big-hearted man,” were Garry Hynes’, final words on Lally yesterday. “He’ll be sorely missed.”

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