The theatre world was tonight mourning the loss of Mick Lally, one of its most renowned actors.
The 64-year-old star of stage and screen died in hospital earlier today after a short illness.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen led tributes to the former teacher, who was most famous for his role as Miley Byrne in the long-running television series 'Glenroe'.
“He was one of the most loved actors of his generation and will be dearly missed by the public and his colleagues in theatre and television,” said Mr Cowen.
“Versatile in both the Irish and English languages, his genius at capturing and portraying the essence of the characters he played brought him wide popular and critical acclaim.”
Lally co-founded the now Druid Theatre in Galway in 1975 with Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen and became an acclaimed stage actor who secured a part in the premiere of Brian Friel’s play 'Translations' in 1980.
Ms Hynes, Druid artistic director, described her colleague as a hero who she looked up to.
“Mick Lally was a man without measure,” she said.
“Druid owes everything to him. If he hadn’t agreed to join Marie and I in the summer of 1975 then Druid would not have existed.”
Culture Minister Mary Hanafin extended her heartfelt sympathy to Lally’s wife Peggy, their children Saileog, Darach and Maghnus.
“Mick Lally’s contribution to the theatrical world has been immense,” said Ms Hanafin.
“Whether he was voicing Keane, Synge or indeed Burrows, his was a distinctive, inimitable contribution to our stage and screen craft.”
Lally, who grew up in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, became a household favourite when took a role in RTE’s 'Glenroe', starring alongside his on-screen wife Mary McEvoy.
The pair recently reunited for a new play called 'The Matchmaker'.
“I still have something in the back of my head that I’m going to see him next week because we were supposed to be doing 'The Matchmaker',” Ms McEvoy added.
Lally later starred in the BBC’s 'Ballykissangel', TG4’s 'Ros na Run' and Hollywood blockbuster 'Alexander', directed by Oliver Stone.
More recently he was the voice of a character in the Oscar nominated animation 'The Secret of Kells'.
His agent Teri Hayden said: “Mick was a client and a friend for over 20 years and a more thoughtful, intelligent person you could not wish to meet.
“The best way you could describe Mick would be to say he was a gentle man.
She added: “Mick’s death is a loss to the industry and the country at large. He was a special man and was loved by everyone. We at The Agency are greatly saddened at his passing.”
Glen Killane, managing director of RTE Television, said the acclaimed actor enriched people’s lives through his contribution to radio, television and Irish life.
“His role as Miley Byrne truly endeared him to the nation and brought him into people’s homes every Sunday evening over an 18-year period,” said Mr Killane.
“His great skill as an actor was apparent in the pure, naturalistic believability of the loveable character which he inhabited and made his own.”
Pat Moylan, chair of the Arts Council, said the theatre community was mourning the loss of a talented and dedicated professional who worked in all the major theatres in the country.
“He was a talented actor and a gentleman, and his loss will be felt by those both outside and within the wider arts community,” she added.
Politicians joined the arts world paying tribute to the much-loved star.
Green Party leader John Gormley said Lally represented a very real part of Irish culture.
“He had an amazing ability to connect with the audience and to tell a story, whether on stage or on television,” he said.
“He was a true artist and his death at such a young age leaves a huge void.”
Michael D Higgins, Labour Party President and former arts minister, said “He was a consistent supporter of causes where rights were at stake, a native Irish speaker and he was at the forefront of development of the Irish language in an open and generous way.”
Fine Gael’s Jimmy Deenihan described Lally as a fine individual.
“He was amenable to all who met him and he will be a major loss to the Irish stage,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pat Carey, Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs, commended Lally’s work in the Irish language.
“A native speaker from Mayo, Mick was a great example to those who believe in the vitality and importance of Irish,” he added.
“He advocated for the language he loved with characteristic dignity and he did some of his finest work in Irish.”