Mick Lally, playing Miley Byrne, on the final day of filming Glenroe

One of Ireland's best known actors, Mick Lally, has died at the age of 64.

He passed away peacefully this morning after a short stay in hospital.

Born in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, Lally began his career as a teacher and secured a part in the premiere of Brian Friel's play Translations in 1980 while a member of the Field Day Theatre Company.

Images | Tributes | Nationwide Special (2005) | Mary McEvoy

Along with Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen, Lally was a founder member of the Druid Theatre Company, which worked closely with many Irish playwrights.

His work on television in the RTÉ series Bracken and later his role as Miley in Glenroe made him a household name.

He also starred in the BBC television series, Ballykissangel, and in the award-winning Ballroom of Romance.

Lally's versatility as an actor extended to the cinema where he appeared in Irish language films. He was a fluent Irish speaker and an advocate of the language.

He also starred in Hollywood-funded films including Alexander, directed by Oliver Stone, and provided the voice in the animated film The Secret of Kells.

Mick Lally is survived by his wife Peggy and their children Saileog, Darach and Maghnus.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has led the tributes, saying he was 'shocked and saddened' by Mick Lally's death.

'He was one of the most loved actors of his generation and will be dearly missed by the public and his colleagues in theatre and television.

'Versatile in both the Irish and English languages, his genius at capturing and portraying the essence of the characters he played brought him wide popular and critical acclaim.'

Minister for Culture Mary Hanafin also paid tribute, saying his contribution to the theatrical world had been immense.

'Whether he was voicing Keane, Synge or indeed Burrows, his was a distinctive, inimitable contribution to our stage and screen craft.

Michael D Higgins TD, former Minister for Arts, Culture & Gaeltacht, said Mick Lally made a set of ground breaking contributions to Irish theatre on stage, television and radio.

'He was a consistent supporter of causes where rights were at stake, a native Irish speaker and he was at the forefront of development of the Irish language in an open and generous way.

'A supporter of socialist causes, he had courage and consistency in his idealism.'

Pat Moylan, Chair of the Arts Council, said it was 'a sad and shocking loss'.

'While Mick will always be best known and fondly remembered as Miley from 'Glenroe', the theatre community will also be mourning the loss of a talented and dedicated professional who worked in all the major theatres in the country.

'He was a talented actor and a gentleman, and his loss will be felt by those both outside and within the wider arts community.'

Listen to an interview with Mick Lally and Mary McEvoy on RTÉ's Miriam Meets earlier this year