President Mary McAleese has led tributes to singer Ronnie Drew who has died following a long illness.

The President said: ‘It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of the great Irish singer Ronnie Drew'.

She said he was a champion of traditional Irish music and with The Dubliners re-energised and refreshened Ireland’s unique musical heritage.

Mrs McAleese said that Mr Drew ‘will be greatly missed by many, but most particularly by his family with whom our thoughts are today’.

Phelim Drew said his father passed away peacefully in St Vincent's Private hospital this afternoon at age 73. Mr Drew's family expressed their gratitude to Professor John Crown and the entire staff of the hospital.

Mr Drew founded the then Ronnie Drew Group in 1962 which later came to be known as The Dubliners.

The group included fellow Irish music legends Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna.

While Mr Kelly was known for singing their soulful ballads, Drew will be best remembered for his gravelly-voiced renditions of rabble-rousing folk songs, like Finnegan's Wake and Dicey Reilly.

Ronnie Drew sang one of the band's biggest commercial hits when they entered the UK top 10 in 1967 with 'Seven Drunken Nights' and appeared on the BBC's Top of the Pops.

In 1995 they appeared once again on the show with Shane McGowan and the Pogues, who performed with Mr Drew on their single 'The Irish Rover'.

Born in 1934 in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Mr Drew underwent six months' treatment for throat cancer two years ago.

Deirdre, his wife of more than 40 years, died last year. The couple lived in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

He is survived by his two children, Phelim and Cliodhna, and five grandchildren.

Tributes flood in for 'iconic singer'

The Taoiseach said that the Dubliners singer had been an iconic figure in Irish music over the past five decades and that his unique singing voice had been enjoyed by many people.

Mr Cowen added that Mr Drew, whether as part of the Dubliners or during his solo career, will be remembered for his promotion of Irish music both at home and around the globe.

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen also expressed his sadness at the news.

Mr Cullen described the singer as a truly Dublin icon and part of our modern folk history.

He said ‘I am sure he will be missed tonight from ‘Raglan Road’ to Fitzgibbon Street’ and in all parts of the city of Dublin which he so romanticised about in his music and song’.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Mr Drew's contribution to Irish music and Irish life was immeasurable and his influence would be felt for many years to come.

In a statement on U2's official website, Bono said Mr Drew has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens.

'Music to inspire, to console... an optimism that was contagious... that's what U2 took from The Dubliners,' he said.

'Ronnie has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens... they need him up there... it's a little too quiet and pious. God is lonely for a voice louder than His own.'