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Larry Reynolds, fiddler of local renown, is mourned

The crowd of mourners at the funeral Mass of Larry Reynolds, 80, spilled out of St. Jude Church and on to Main Street in Waltham on Thursday.

Bill Brett For The Boston Globe

The crowd of mourners at the funeral Mass of Larry Reynolds, 80, spilled out of St. Jude Church and on to Main Street in Waltham on Thursday.

Frank Joyce had to keep his funeral home in Waltham open a lot later than planned Wednesday night. Larry Reynolds’s wake was supposed to last for six hours. But it took more than nine hours to get everybody through the line.

“At least a couple of thousand people,” Joyce said. “They just kept coming.”

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It seemed like half of them returned to Waltham on Thursday morning, to St. Jude Church, where Larry Reynolds was dispatched from this world with the two things that embodied him: kind words and beautiful music.

A Waltham cop, perplexed by the size of the crowd that spilled out of the church onto Main Street, tugged at a photographer and asked, “Who was this guy?”

Larry Reynolds grew up in a village called Ahascragh, in County Galway, in the west of Ireland. When he was 10, his brother Harry bought him a fiddle and his sister Betty, who was working as a maid for a wealthy family, paid for lessons. He was schooled in the traditional style peculiar to East Galway, and he played for love, not money.

But money was scarce and so, like many Galwaymen of his generation, Reynolds immigrated to Boston. He was 20 years old when he got here in 1953. He fed his stomach by working as a carpenter. He fed his soul by playing his fiddle. He used his bow like a saw, to build something that would last.

Larry Reynolds was a 10-year-old boy in County Galway, Ireland, when he got his first fiddle.

Larry Reynolds was a 10-year-old boy in County Galway, Ireland, when he got his first fiddle.

If the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem led the renaissance of traditional Irish music worldwide, Larry Reynolds led it here in and around Boston. When he first got here, he played at Hibernian Hall in Dudley Square in Roxbury. He took the music to the suburbs, playing at the Village Coach House in Brookline, the Skellig in Waltham.

His hands were a contradiction. The skin that covered them was coarse, the skin of a working man who swung a hammer. But his fingers were the digits of an artist, as dexterous as a surgeon’s. For all his talent, he was a humble man. He blushed at praise. He carried his union card, Carpenters Local 67, and his fiddle case wherever he went.

He was an easy man to find on Monday nights. For a quarter century, you could find him every Monday, sitting in the Green Briar, a pub in Brighton. He didn’t go there to drink. He went there to play music, to teach music, to evangelize, really. He was a missionary, spreading the good news. Traditional music was a restorative force to Reynolds, a relaxing, mystic tonic for increasingly frenetic times.

His weekly trad sessions were low-key revival meetings. People — young and old, Irish and mostly not Irish — came to sit at Larry Reynolds’ elbow, the fiddler’s elbow. Reynolds played with some great musicians, but he liked nothing more than coaxing novices to put aside their nervousness and give it a go: a teenager shyly holding a tin whistle, an old woman trying to master the bodhran drum. A whispered word from Larry Reynolds was usually all it took for someone to lose their stage fright.

His wife, Phyllis, is an accomplished pianist, and she threw open their Waltham home to a never-ending stream of musicians and dancers and singers. Larry and Phyllis Reynolds were married for 58 years, had seven kids, and gave birth to countless musicians.

It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands of people, many of them without anything remotely Irish about them, became purveyors or lovers of traditional music because of Larry Reynolds.

And that is why, in this day and age of celebrity, thousands of people came to Waltham to say goodbye to someone who was neither rich nor famous.

Even at 80, Reynolds was in no rush to leave this world. But he would have enjoyed his funeral. He always found the liturgy of the Mass comforting. And there were even more musicians than priests in the church, and they sent him off with a slow air, “For Ireland I’d Not Tell Her Name,” which he loved.

His impact will last as long as the music. And that’s forever.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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