Waltham, Massachusetts -- Last Thursday was a sun-filled, crisp New England Day with a touch of coolness after the heavy downpour on the day before as people first starting lining up for the Wednesday wake for Larry Reynolds, the chieftain of Boston’s Irish music community.
Thousands would turn out for hours to offer their condolences to widow Phyllis Reynolds and her six children and many grandchildren at the Joyce Funeral Home in Waltham, the leafy suburb on the outskirts of Beantown. Many of them returned Thursday morning to celebrate a Mass at St. Jude’s Church, their “spiritual home” parish.
Seven priests and a deacon (one of Larry’s many set-dancer friends) concelebrated the music-filled ceremony in the simple wooden church that somehow held the multitudes who attended in memory of the beloved fiddler from Ahascragh in East Galway near Ballinasloe who died on October 3 at the age of 80.
During the service the music orchestrated by the cantress of the day Mairin Ui Cheide, also from Galway and a superb Irish language singer, ranged from the liturgically correct to the respectfully suitable Irish airs or hymns.
Serving along with Ui Cheide as music ministers were Brendan Bulger, Joanie Madden, John Whelan, Paul Kenneally, Chris Bulger, Fergus and John Keane, Matt Cunningham and Doreen Gulledge.
Moist red-rimmed eyes filled the church for Mairin’s rendering of “Our Lady of Knock” and also Maurice Lennon’s “If Ever You Were Mine” performed instrumentally, proving that music is good for the soul.
The eulogy for Reynolds was delivered by one of his sons, Mike, an accordionist and singer who played with Boston Comhaltas for so many years. He told the congregation that the “shillings spent on a fiddle and lessons by an older brother and sister” 70 years ago in Ahascragh, “turned out to be one of the greatest investments in Irish music in the history of America.”
And that would not be any exaggeration because of the impact that his father had on the Boston Irish music scene and his significant role in Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in North America since he landed on these shores back in 1953. With alternating sighs of emotion and cracking voice Mike bravely yet powerfully sung a song with the refrain “Remember me when there are times that you can’t make it through and I’ll be at your side,” as more moisture came to the eyes of those assembled who knew how important family was to Larry Reynolds, Sr.
That investment that Mike Reynolds mentioned before the coffin was to be removed from the church paid an immediate dividend at the back of the church.
Assembled in the rear was a group of 70 traditional musicians organized by the Clare accordionist Tara Lynch of the Hanafin Cooley Branch playing a blast of lively reels like the “Sligo Maid,” “Come West Along the Road” and the Galway national anthem, the “Bucks of Oranmore.” No one had seen or heard the like of it at any funeral before, but there could be no more fitting final salute from so many musicians of all ages whose lives were touched by the godfather of Irish music in Boston.
That lifted the hearts of the congregation, many of whom would join in the long funeral procession from the Waltham church to St. Mary’s Church in Needham and the final resting place for hugely popular Galwegian.
Many would make their way back to the Skellig Pub in Waltham owned by long-time friend, Tommy McCarthy, Jr. where Larry ran a Tuesday night session for a number of years for more chunes, grub and grog as his memory was celebrated more along the lines of an Irish wake.
There are others who could more accurately describe Larry Reynolds’s place in the musical legacy of Irish America through his total good-natured dominance of Boston and New England, and it was sizeable for sure.
Personally, as someone deeply involved in the early days of the set-dancing revival in America, I found a very generous ally in Larry, who actually loved to play for dancers “until the cows come home.”
He found willing co-conspirators in Donnacha O’Muineachain, Sally Harney and Terry McCarthy, who taught hundreds of local dancers many of the old house dances and help make Boston Comhaltas welcome and plentiful guests wherever they went.
The prerequisites for a healthy set dancing community were lively musicians and dancers and a sociability and interaction that made both of them thrive. Larry brought that awareness from Ahascragh, and like the many tunes that he came along with on that journey to Boston, he shared them with as many people as he could smiling all the way.
Whether it was a large banquet hall, a dance tent at the Irish Cultural Center Festival or his monthly ceilithe at the Canadian American Hall in Watertown, providing good lively dance music was important for Larry, who usually would ask, “What would you like to dance to?”
He would play for hours for the dancer’s delight and so many of them didn’t mind waiting on line to bid him farewell last Wednesday.
Larry Reynolds made people happy as a modern day Fiddler of Dooney. His people were merry and “the merry love the fiddle and the merry love to dance,” and nothing pleased him more than to see a wave of people out on the dance floor. A fond farewell and thank you to Boston’s Fiddler of Dooney.