Final ovation for Mick Lally as friends and colleagues recall a life well lived

 

IT WASN’T the rocky coast of his beloved Mayo or even the pavement and redbrick of the South Circular Road where he was often seen on his bike, when the sun split the stones at Newlands Cross cemetery and crematorium in Dublin as Mick Lally’s family and friends gathered to celebrate his life.

The crowd of familiar faces from TV, film, theatre and politics grew hushed as the cortege arrived with a silent Garda escort, an honour that surprised the late actor’s family who hadn’t been prepared for this public outpouring of grief and respect.

As the hearse pulled up, the mourners burst into applause out of respect for the actor, whose coffin-bearers included his sons, Darach and Maghnus.

Lally’s mother May, his widow Peige, daughter Saileogh and Lally’s six siblings and members of Druid Theatre accompanied the coffin, although his father, Tommy (97) was unable to

attend.

When the humanist ceremony began, Brian Whiteside, celebrant, said Lally had been “intertwined in our lives” and was now “gone from our lives” and that everyone had gathered to “celebrate a life well lived”. There would be no grand appraisals because that had all been said, so now was the time for his family and friends to express “the essence” of Mick Lally by those who loved him.

Lally’s son Darach bravely held back tears as he spoke of his shock at losing his 64-year-old father so suddenly and too soon.

“Like a good farmer, he made you want to ask for more. I want more,” he said. His father “could have been forgiven for settling for a fairly easy life as a teacher, but he had never sought the easy life”. Instead, he had accepted “real elements of hardship and uncertainty” because “conventional wisdom never dictated his life” and he “delighted in alienating others”.

This theme was picked up by theatre director Garry Hynes, who with Marie Mullen and Lally founded the Druid Theatre Company in 1975. Hynes said among the people she most loved to have rows with, the one she most loved to row with was Lally.

Lally was “interested essentially in other people” and “had the gift of making you feel you were the very person he was hoping to meet”.

“I was happiest with him in a rehearsal room or around his dinner table or my dinner table.”

He shared his food, theories, ideas and music and always offered “a sense of fun”.

Lally had also used his position to champion causes he believed in, such as homelessness and disadvantage, and to challenge the “ambiguity of how we value and support arts in this country”.

Mullen said that only the Irish language could suitably express Lally’s humanity. He was a nobleman and a gentleman.

And she said to Peige, in Irish, “everybody knows you were his spéir bhean”.

She added that she could almost hear Lally saying “you’re making me out to be a right saint” when he was really a “cranky, cantankerous old man”.

Much of the service was conducted in Irish, with its mournful poetic sound communicating the depth of sadness felt even by those who couldn’t quite understand all the words.

Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola, Lally’s niece, sang a lament sean nós style, Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire, with the words “ochón agus ochón” and her expressive voice communicating a sense of mourning that needed no translation.

The service ended with a standing ovation for Lally.

President Mary McAleese sent a letter of condolence. The funeral was attended by the Taoiseach’s aide-de-camp Comdt Michael Tracey – Mr Cowen having visited the family home the night before. Minister for Culture Mary Hanafin also attended.

The world of politics was also represented by Michael D Higgins and Pat Rabbitte. RTÉ was represented by outgoing director general Cathal Goan.

Cathal McMullan, who acted with Lally in 1970 in an Irish version of The Hostageby Brendan Behan, represented the Irish-language theatre company Taibhdhearc, where Lally got his start. Already a teacher in Tuam, Lally acted for five years with the company before helping to found Druid. Taibhdhearc’s Roisín Duignan, Patsy Clancy, John Forde and Joe Maude were present to remember their friend.

An entire generation of theatre was represented by Abbey Theatre director Fiach Mac Conghail, actress Bríd Ní Neachtain, playwright Tom Murphy and actors Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Rea, Barry McGovern, Frank Kelly, John Kavanagh, Seán McGinley, Gerard McSorley and MacDara Ó Flatharta. The Druid Theatre company was there in force, with Tim Smith, company director, Sarah Lynch, stage manager, Séamus O’Grady, chairman (also representing the president of NUIG), Bernie Harrigan, financial director, Ann Butler and Maureen Hughes.

Among Lally’s colleagues from Glenroewere Mary McEvoy, who played Miley’s wife Biddy, Mairtín Collins, Geraldine Plunkett, Eunice McMenamin and Emmet Bergin, Susan Slott and Alan Stanford.