Tonight when the floors of the Druid Theatre in Druid Lane fall silent, and when the last vestige of light is squeezed out by the arriving night; and when the last lock has been bolted, there will be heard a cough, a clearing of the throat and that chuckle, the head thrown back, and an “arragh shure.”
A little bit of the company’s history died this week with the passing of Mick Lally — a cue taken well before it should have been delivered, but in a week in which the company had excelled itself with its fantastic production of the anti-war play The Silver Tassie.
There is no doubt that the spirit of Mick Lally will forever inhabit the place, hopping across the street to An Taibhdhearc for the occasional appearance, mingling among the many on the street.
Mick was the quintessential Galway resident, ahead of his time, setting a trend that so many others would follow. He was one of many who came to this town, who loved the life it offered, and who went on to make a major contribution to the perception of the city as a bastion of things cultural and airy fairy. His endeavours created the image of Galway as the place where nobody ever has a real job, a job where they get their hands dirty. He and others painted the picture of Galway as a place where you’re either a poet or a fella who is hair-netted up and makes heart stents.
When Mick arrived here, Galway was but a market town, albeit one with great character and tradition. It is hard to fathom now that it was a place that was not entirely receptive to the idea of the arts as a generator of income.
Mick’s home village Tourmakeady was across the lake from my own home. When fishing on Mask in my childhood, we’d often make our way over to have the flask and sandwiches in Paddy Walsh’s pub or avail of the hospitality of that great Shakespearean actor who lived there, Robert Shaw, the Jaws star who later died on a roadside not far from the village, and who had a home on the lake shore. Shaw would welcome the fishing boats onto his berth and break out the stout.
In a way Mick was the true representation of Tourmakeady. His face was as rugged as the hilly land whence he came, but it belied a great scholar — a man who devoured knowledge in a manner that could normally have been wasted on many of his compatriots from back home. And allied to his appreciation of the classics was his country glickness which ensured that he could spot a bullshitter a mile off.
It is hard to know if this country will ever again produce a domestic actor who is as well known as Mick. Never again will one country be as glued to a drama as Ireland was to The Riordans and Glenroe. Any top class TV drama that is produced in the country now is inevitably shafted once it becomes too expensive to produce, especially when audiences prefer programmes about nobodies trying to get a job from a car salesman.
Mick enjoyed an unique fame amplified in two-channel land, but it was a fame that did not sit easy on his shoulders. However, his legacy is immense. The Galway we live in today is thanks to a generation of people who were instrumental in that era of the 60s and 70s. No other generation has contributed as much.
Our sympathies go out to Mick’s many friends and colleagues and of course to his family.
So Mick, thanks for all you’ve given us. Rest easy now and enjoy your new role as the spirit of the stage.