MICK LALLY’s life and work will be remembered and celebrated this Sunday from 5pm when Sean Tyrrell, Johnny Mulhearn, Wally Page, Johnny Moynihan, Tony Small, Lena Ullman, Eugene Lambe, Terry Smith, and Mary Staunton take to the stage for Music and Song Tribute to Mick Lally in Monroe’s Live.
Mick Lally was born in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, in November, 1945. The eldest of seven children, it was assumed he would take over the running of the family farm when he came of age. Yet after attending the local national school Mick went to St Mary’s Secondary School and UCG, and made Galway city his home for many years.
During university he became heavily involved in the trad music, drama, and arts scene. He was also a strong advocate for the Irish language.
Mick qualified as a teacher and taught history and Irish in Tuam for six years. In 1975 he quit teaching to pursue a career as a stage actor, founding Druid Theatre in Galway with director Garry Hynes and actress Maire Mullen.
The company achieved much acclaim for its production of Playboy of the Western World in the early 1980s and Lally was lauded for his portrayal of Old Mahon. He went on to work with Derry’s Field Day Theatre Company and also worked extensively in theatre in Dublin, particularly in the Abbey Theatre.
In 1982 he starred in the RTÉ TV series Ballroom of Romance alongside Brenda Fricker and Niall Toibín. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he played the role of farmer Miley Byrne in Glenroe. It was perhaps his most memorable character and he was beloved by millions of viewers. The series also led to some success in the world of music as his single ‘The By-road To Glenroe’ hit the top of the Irish charts in 1990.
Despite his illustrious and important career in Irish theatre, many of his friends will remember Mick as a singer rather than an actor.
“I remember him primarily as a singer from back in the old Folk Castle,” says folk singer-songwriter Sean Tyrrell. “He was part of the whole scene in The Cellar Bar in the late sixties and early seventies. Lally was a close friend of the late, great fiddle player Mickey Finn and of everyone around the town.
“He loved his comic songs and he had a vast collection of them. Mick would sing at the drop of a hat and many times he joined in on sessions with Johnny Mulhearn and Wally Page.”
Galway trad and Druid
In February 1960 The Television Bill passed its final stage in Seanad Éireann and in 1961 Teilifis Éireann went on air. The station’s first broadcast on New Year’s Eve ushered in a new era in Irish life. Innovations in arts and education followed soon after and Mick Lally was one of those who availed of the new opportunities.
“I first met Mick in the mid 1960s,” Johnny Mulhearn recalls .“It was around the time that a lot of new and interesting people came into Galway. People came in from the hinterlands to avail of the educational opportunities at the university and suddenly the city was a very busy and happening place. The music thing was there beforehand but then you had the genesis of Druid Theatre and the Galway Arts Festival and Macnas.”
The vibrant Galway scene produced De Dannan, Mary Coughlan, and Dolores Keane. Sessions were frequented by Christy Moore, Johnny Moynihan, and members of Planxty in the 1970s. It laid the foundations for the chart successes of The Saw Doctors, The Waterboys, and The Stunning two decades later.
“Mick helped create a buzz for arts in Galway,” Sean Tyrrell acknowledges. “It started with the traditional music scene and then came the poets and the actors. The development of theatre, film and music was very important to the development of Galway and Mick was involved in all those spheres. He was a well respected man in this town and it would be remiss of his friends if we didn’t have a music tribute to him.”
Miley and Glenroe
The characters of Miley and his father Dinny Byrne first appeared in the television series Bracken in the late 1970s. Lally’s portrayal of farmer’s son Miley was then transferred to a new TV series, Glenroe, where he became the central character.
Throughout the rest of his life Lally was commonly referred to in public as ‘Miley’ and it was equally a blessing and a curse for the actor.
“I often talked to him about that very thing,” says Tyrrell, “I remember two experiences in particular where it came up in my time with him. The first was when we were doing a gig together and we stopped for a quick drink in Oughterard. An old woman came up to him and started talking to him as Miley and he was so generous to her with his time.
“Another time we were in Dublin and down by Christchurch he was being slagged by a couple of Dubs. They were shouting ‘G’wan Miley’ and all that and I wouldn’t have blamed him if he lost his cool with them but he just kept on walking and didn’t react.
“I asked him about it afterwards and he replied: ‘Sure they’re my bread and butter’. Mick was always the voice of reason in every situation and he was an extremely gentle man.”
What the boisterous youths in Dublin probably did not realise was that Mick Lally was quite an accomplished boxer, winning the British and Irish intervarsity boxing championship during his time at university.
“Everyone knew he was well able to handle himself,” Tyrrell says. “I never actually saw that side of him though and I’d say he’d have to be pushed extremely hard to raise his fists outside the ring. I wouldn’t have liked to have gotten on the wrong side of him!”
The final curtain
Unfortunately, Mick Lally lost his toughest battle in August of this year when he succumbed to the lung disease that had plagued him for over a decade. After his passing there were glowing tributes to him from his friends and colleagues such as Garry Hynes, Mary McEvoy, Gabriel Byrne, and Brendan Gleeson. All acknowledged his huge contribution to Irish film and television.
It was a long journey for the son of a small farmer from the fields of Tourmakeady to the stages of Galway and Dublin and on to the by-road of Glenroe. His fellow Mayo man, singer-songwriter and teacher, John Hoban, remembers Mick Lally with the following heartfelt lines:
“Dear John write lines and let me know if you have heard the news seems like half a century since first that I met you. I believe the neighbours told you that I have turned a tramp no house, no stock to bother me, no paraffin for the lamp.”
Tickets for Music and Song Tribute to Mick Lally are €15 and available from Monroe’s and Zhivago Records. All proceeds from the night will go towards the Haiti Relief Fund.
If you are unable to attend but would like to contribute, cheques must be made out to both Sean Tyrrell and Eugene Lambe for the Bank of Ireland, Gort, Co Galway, Sort code 903867, Acc no 65578671, IBan No IE07 BOFI 9038 6765 5786 71, BIC NO BOFIIE2D
For more information contact Monroe’s on 091 - 583397 or 087 - 9783245.