Born on Dec. 17, 1920, in Garvary, a townland close to Ballinamuck, Co. Longford, Reynolds raises his hand to his brow and clouds over with emotion as he tells of “the terrible agony and loneliness of my mother and father” when his older sisters left for the United States. Paddy was just five or six then, and the memory of that painful farewell never left him.
On June 15, Paddy Reynolds died at age 84 in Staten Island, N.Y., from heart failure after suffering a stroke last December. The Irish traditional music community of New York and, for that matter, everywhere else, must now painfully bid farewell to one of its finest instrumentalists, who had been a U.S. resident since 1947.
“Paddy was the sweetest fiddler you ever heard,” said Tony DeMarco, a close friend who cites him as an inspiration and primary influence on his own Irish fiddling style. “His timing and phrasing were impeccable, preserving the most beautiful settings of tunes. What a pleasure to listen to!”
In 1981 Demarco joined fellow fiddler Brian Conway and guitar and bones player Caesar Pacifici on “The Apple in Winter: Irish Music in New York.” This album paid homage to James “Lad” O’Beirne, Martin Wynne, Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, and other key figures that kept the tradition alive in New York City when it wasn’t always easy to do so.
“Paddy’s legendary feistiness was totally understandable, given that the music he loved and played so well had mostly in his lifetime been consigned to the background of Irish and Irish American cultural and social life,” said singer, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and scholar Mick Moloney.
He added that he owes “Paddy an indelible personal debt because he was my very first point of contact with the New York traditional Irish music scene after I arrived in the U.S. in the early 1970s. He led me to Se_n McGlynn, Jack and Charlie Coen, Johnny Cronin, Andy McGann, Mike Rafferty, Mike Flynn, Joe Madden, Mike Preston, and other great musicians like them who played at that time mostly outside of earshot of the wider Irish American community. Meeting these mighty men changed my life.”
A lawyer working in the Westchester County district attorney’s office in White Plains, N.Y., Brian Conway recalled his own initial encounter with Paddy Reynolds. It was at a 1971 house party in the Bronx, and the 10-year-old Conway “was playing a very short time,” he admitted.
“Paddy was very kind and supportive to me, and that first meeting set the tone for our relationship for the rest of his life,” he said.
Conway’s assessment of Reynolds’s skill with the fiddle reflects the opinion of other admirers.
“His keen respect and knowledge of the music and his well-honed sense of good taste were the hallmarks of his playing, and I consider myself truly blessed to have had him as a friend. Not only was he a great influence on me but also on all those I have, in turn, been fortunate to teach. As I told him the last time we met face to face on May 20, his influence will be felt for generations to come.”
FROM IRELAND TO AMERICA
Growing up on a farm in Longford, Paddy Reynolds was accustomed to long, hard, manual labor, but the work never sapped his desire to pursue the fiddle. He often sneaked off with his older brother James’s fiddle to practice late at night on a bale of hay or sack of oats in the barn.
Giving him some instruction at age six was his mother, Mary Ann (n