The heart as big as Boston stop beating last week and one of the leading musicians in Irish America was taken from his family and many friends on Wednesday, October 3 with the passing of Larry Reynolds, Sr.
A heart condition slowed the 80-year-old native of Ahascragh in Northeast Galway in the past year. Since he arrived in this country in 1953 Reynolds had been in the thick of the Irish music scene in Boston, the most Irish of American cities and especially home to so many Galwegian immigrants that it was literally the parish next door separated by an ocean.
To be in Reynolds’s presence was to feel the full experience of the Irish in America who were proud to love two countries at the same time, and he embodied the best attributes of America and Ireland.
Reynolds’ name would not be known in many households of Irish America or as famous as one of Paddy Moloney’s Chieftains bandmates. But Larry was a chieftain of traditional Irish music in the greater Boston area who touched all the local musicians and visiting musicians on tour with his sincerity, generosity and encouragement and his indefatigable love of sharing tunes and stories.
When Reynolds arrived in this country the famed Dudley Street Dance Hall era was ebbing, but it still served as an orientation for the carpenter who knew that he could supplement his income for his growing family over the years doing what he loved to do, playing Irish music.
After several years of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann tour groups passing through Boston, Reynolds and his good friend John Curran, who passed away earlier this year, founded a CCE branch in Boston along with some other like-minded visionaries in 1976.
Named for local musicians who graced the territory in Comhaltas fashion, the Hanafin-Cooley Branch -- or Boston Comhaltas -- became a formidable beachhead for the movement in North America.
Under Reynolds’s steady stewardship it became the largest branch on this side of the Atlantic, but numbers only told part of the story. To be at a Boston Comhaltas event was to experience the camaraderie and craic that Larry delighted in spreading as much as he did the many tunes for those lucky enough to pull a chair alongside of him at a session, ceili or a concert.
He was a magnet for attracting musicians, young and old and in between, and set dancers who could never tire him out or his mighty ceili band.
I am not sure that I have ever come across a musician who balanced his love of sitting in on music sessions that could go on all day and night with his dedication of playing for set dancers hour after hour in that grueling exercise that would wear the arm off of lesser fiddlers.
And it wasn’t always that he wanted to hear himself play because he was very unselfish in that regard and prodded others to play out front or watching dancers go round the house endlessly.
Larry and his wonderful and adoring wife Phyllis made for a dynamic duo looking after the Boston music scene while also fielding the highs and lows parenting seven children in their 58 years of marriage.
With gracious good humor and determination they took on challenge after challenge. They led by example and garnered the respect of all who came into contact with them.
It is very hard to imagine a Boston Irish music scene without Larry Reynolds, but his was a strong presence that will never be forgotten. While his broad shoulders carried a large burden of leadership, he touched so many people through his Comhaltas organization that there is great strength in unity.
For sure there will never be another person like Reynolds, but for Comhaltas’ 36 years in Boston they were very happy with Larry in the saddle, and they can always be grateful for such a long distinguished tenure.
Since first meeting him 27 years ago I’ve enjoyed knowing him and learning from him as did everyone else, and he will be sorely missed.
Goodbye old friend, but thanks for the memories and the Trojan work keeping the tradition alive. Reynolds will be waked and a Mass celebrated in Waltham, Massachusetts this week.