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Larry Reynolds, 80; ‘virtuoso’ of Irish fiddling

Fiddler Larry Reynolds was a longtime fixture of Boston’s Irish music scene.

Reagle Music Theatre

Fiddler Larry Reynolds was a longtime fixture of Boston’s Irish music scene.

When Larry Reynolds emigrated in 1953 from County Galway in Western Ireland, he brought along his fiddle and a passion for the music of his homeland, and he dedicated the rest of his life to sharing that music with others.

“There’s something about it that really gives you an uplifted feeling,” he told the Globe in 1994.“When you hear or play a tune, it’s very special. Some of them are lonesome in a way. But a lot of them are very bright and lifting. The next day, you find the tunes going through your head.”

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A carpenter by day, he spent nights in halls and pubs, leading music sessions that were open to anyone, regardless of experience or ethnicity.

He also took pleasure in performing for the political elite, including Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the former longtime US House speaker; William Bulger, who served as Senate president in Massachusetts; and Mary Robinson and Mary Mc­Aleese, both former presidents of Ireland.

Mr. Reynolds, who also helped found the Boston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, which promotes traditional Irish culture, died Oct. 3 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of amyloidosis, a protein disorder. He was 80 and had lived in Waltham for many years.

“We have Larry to thank for sparking an Irish music renaissance in Boston and for spawning a young generation of musicians, singers and dancers to carry on his work,” Michael Quinlin, head of the Boston Irish Tourist Association, wrote in a booklet that was shared with those who attended the funeral for Mr. Reynolds in Waltham on Thursday.

Considered by many to be the unofficial ambassador of Irish music in Boston, Mr. Reynolds mastered the fiddle, led bands in Ireland and America, and launched traditional Irish music sessions at venues in and around Boston.

“He was a real talent, a virtuoso,” said Joe Fenton, former manager of the Green Briar, an Irish pub in Brighton where Mr. Reynolds led a weekly open-mike session for many years. “Of all the people I’ve met in the bar business, there was no better man than Larry Reynolds. He was such a good teacher, such a nurturing guy, and he made everybody feel they were part of the session, even amateurs.”

Quinlin, who also is a musician, said Mr. Reynolds routinely played his fiddle until well past midnight, went home to Waltham, and awoke at 5 a.m. for his day job as a carpenter with Local 67 of the Carpenters Union in Dorchester.

“It was no problem for him,” he said. “He was indefatigable, larger than life.”

Lawrence F. Reynolds Sr. was born and grew up in the town of Ahascragh, the 12th of 13 children. According to family lore, a brother bought him a fiddle when he was 10, and a sister paid for him to take lessons.

Upon arriving in Boston, he immersed himself in the local Irish music scene. He also took carpentry classes at what is now Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, and worked at a machine factory, where he met Phyllis Preece, a secretary who played piano and shared his love of music.

They married in 1954 in Concord and lived in Somerville and Lexington before settling in Waltham in 1964.

All of their children became musicians, and Mr. Reynolds performed frequently with three of his sons: Larry Jr. of Waltham and Michael of Norwood, both accordionists, and Sean of Waltham, a fiddler.

“He embraced everybody, all musicians, but oftentimes it was the four of us,” Larry Jr. said.

In 1976, Mr. Reynolds helped found the Boston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. The group, which promotes Irish culture, music, and dance, raised money for young musicians in Ireland and hosted nationwide competitions, with Mr. Reynolds as its leader for many years.

“The shows are very spontaneous, very spirited,” Mr. Reynolds told the Globe in 2003 about the organization’s competitions. “You’re never sure what’s coming next. And I always look forward to the storytelling, based in folklore; a lot of parochial stories the old-timers have passed along. It’s another form of living tradition, you know, like the music and the dance.”

Mr. Reynolds often offered his talents for fund-raisers, Quinlin said, and he rarely turned down a request to play at weddings, wakes, and other events.

He was especially known for encouraging amateur musicians he met at the Irish sessions he hosted at the Green Briar, the Village Coach House in Brookline, the Skellig Pub in Waltham, and other venues.

To participate, “you didn’t have to be Irish, and you didn’t have to be good,” Quinlin said.

“All you had to do was appreciate the music,” he said. “Larry thought that Irish music was in a way a universal language, and he was very interested in bringing it to the people. There was something real pure about his love for it.”

Mr. Reynolds played Gaelic folk music in numerous Ceili bands and was featured, along with other members of the Boston branch of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, on a 1980 album “We’re Irish Still.”

He and Connolly hosted a Saturday morning radio program on WNTN-AM in Boston, and in later years, Mr. Reynolds and his son Sean were the hosts.

“I meet people who tell me that they won’t go shopping until the program is over,” Mr. Reynolds told the Globe in 1994. “That’s the reward that I get — somebody enjoying what I’m striving to do. That’s all the reward that I need.”

A service has been held for Mr. Reynolds, who in addition to his wife and three sons leaves a daughter, Deborah Bendall of Maynard, two other sons, James of Belmont and Kevin of Waltham; a sister, Eleanor Courier of Orange, Calif.; a brother, Sean of Ahascragh, County Galway, Ireland; 19 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

“Whether you had reached the pinnacle of social success, or you were a commoner, he treated everyone the same,” Larry Jr. said. “He was always very gentle, caring, and compassionate, and he had a gift for making everyone feel special.”

Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@comcast.net.

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