MICK LALLY’S familiar, croaky voice was among the most distinctive in Irish theatre and on our television screens. As a voiceover artist that voice – recently heard to good effect and delighting a new generation in the Irish animation success, The Secret of Kells– became his trademark. It had a touch of geniality and an instantly recognisable quality that contributed to the actor’s place in the affections of the general public.
His enduring popularity must be attributed also to his long-running character, the seemingly innocent Miley Byrne, on RTÉ’s soap opera, Glenroe; those years of domestic and farmyard drama in Co Wicklow established him as a household name. Although that role also bestowed on him the alter ego which he found difficult to shake off, he will be more properly remembered for stage performances that challenged his talents and earned him the recognition he deserved as an actor of versatility.
Those skills in particular met their match in the definitive production of The Playboy of the Western Worldthat was staged as part of the “DruidSynge” festival and in which he played Old Mahon, Christy’s father. Lally’s West of Ireland, Mayo background — he was born in Tourmakeady — undoubtedly contributed to the instinctive nature of his performances in Synge’s work. Equally he was at home in the work of Tom Murphy and John B Keane, and gave one of his most remarkable performances in the Macnas stage version of Patrick’s McCabe’s The Dead School.
Perhaps Lally’s greatest and most enduring service to Irish theatre was off-stage in his partnership with Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen as co-founder of Druid, a company that has transcended its Galway origins to establish for itself a vital position in Irish theatre. As Hynes acknowledged in a tribute yesterday, the company would not exist today without Lally’s creative input. A fluent Irish speaker who began his career with Galway’s An Taibhdhearc theatre, Lally never neglected his commitment to the language and returned to a soap opera role in TG4’s Ros na Rún.
Hynes once told a story to this newspaper about a rehearsal room conversation in the early days of Druid when another actor was scathing about a production he had seen and disliked. Lally’s response was “Ah, don’t be too hard on them, they didn’t set out to make it bad”. That attitude was the measure of this gentle, humble actor who will be greatly missed.