Saoirse Ronan's casting in 'The Hobbit' appears to have been confirmed.

The 'Lovely Bones' actress has long been linked to the role of elf warrior maiden Itaril in the fantasy prequel and though she has insisted she has not had a formal offer for the movie, the film's casting director Ros Hubbard says the 16-year-old star has signed on.

Discussing the casting of Irish stars including James Nesbitt and Aidan Turner in 'The Hobbit' with the Irish Film & Television Network, Ros said: "Jimmy Nesbitt is thrilled to bits, his whole family have gone out, it is just wonderful. And working with Peter Jackson, the director, is like working with a family. So they'll have a great time. Saoirse's family will go too, everyone is very close and very loving on those sorts of jobs. It's not like typical studio movies at all."

It was revealed yesterday (27.01.11) that filming on the movie has been delayed after Sir Peter Jackson was hospitalised with a stomach ulcer, meaning the troubled 'Lord Of The Rings' prequel - starring Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom - will not start on its expected production date in February.

The movie - which features British actor Martin Freeman as lead character Bilbo Baggins - has had a number of problems with production, and last year was close to moving from New Zealand to Eastern Europe or the UK.

Original director Guillermo Del Toro pulled out of helming the project, and extras were initially advised against taking part in the shoot because of a lack of deal about pay.

'The Hobbit' - which sees lead character Bilbo Journey to Lonely Mountain with a group of dwarves to fight a dragon - is expected to hit cinemas in December 2012.