This weekend, Terry Watson, longtime resident of Montauk and a former Montauk School Board member for 30-plus years, will join the ranks of John Wayne, Bob Hope and Mickey Mouse. She will become a parade grand marshal.
When the Montauk Friends of Erin celebrate their Irish heritage by marching down Main Street in Montauk on Sunday, March 22, Watson will be strutting her stuff as Grand Marshal, wielding the ceremonial shillelagh, proudly sporting her tricolor sash and top hat. It will be Montauk’s 53rd annual St. Paddy’s Day outing. St. Patrick’s Day stands for many things—Irish pride, corned beef and cabbage, green beer—but in Montauk, it heralds one of the hamlet’s single biggest events, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Watson was absolutely tickled green when the Montauk Friends of Erin phoned while she was on vacation in St. John. “At first I thought it was a joke. I was stunned that they really meant it! It’s such a very great honor.” The ceremonial position is offered to an outstanding member of the community. Watson had served on the Montauk School Board as trustee since she was elected to the position in 1984, and she has lived in Montauk for more than 40 years. While everyone gets to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, Watson has the street cred. Although she comes from Brooklyn, Watson has a Hibernian background. “My mother was a MacNamara. I’m Irish and English. It’s an odd combination.”
She is taking her duties as grand marshal very seriously. “My duties are smiling and waving,” Watson laughs. “I’ve gone over things with the Montauk Friends of Erin. We were invited to march in the New York City parade on Tuesday, March 17. On Friday, there is a roast and toast where I get my sash, top hat and shillelagh.” The Grand Marshal’s Luncheon on Friday, March 20, is just the kick off for a weekend full of St. Patrick’s Day merriment, Montauk style. The luncheon will take place at Gurney’s Inn, from noon to 3 p.m. On Saturday’s schedule is the Friends of Erin Gala Cocktail Party from 4–8 p.m., also at Gurney’s. The cocktail party will feature a buffet, open bar and live music, along with a Pot of Gold Raffle.
Watson will be smiling and waving at an awful lot of people by the time Sunday rolls around. As the second-largest parade in New York State, the Montauk St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the biggest and most well-attended in the area. Parade attendees number in the thousands, up to 40,000 people, many of them day-tripping out to the East End for the weekend. The parade has always served as a signal that winter is over, and draws a huge number of visitors—some more well-behaved than others—out to Montauk.
While the rowdy side of St. Patrick’s Day is undeniable and unavoidable, the parade is also a big fundraiser for the Montauk Friends of Erin, who in turn have supported a number of local groups through the years, including Soldier Ride, Montauk Youth and many others. The Friends of Erin was founded in 1962 and originally had 12 members, who would undoubtedly be gratified to see how big the event has grown.
The Montauk Friends of Erin had been in existence for just six years when Watson and husband George began summering in Montauk in 1968. In 1973, they decided to call Montauk home full-time, raising four children and opening up The Dock, a bar/restaurant that is something of a local legend.
Watson vividly remembers driving out to Montauk for the very first time. “I remember thinking I had never been out to the end of Long Island before. I had no idea there was anything like that. Of course, it was less developed back then. We came out in a two-seater Corvette. It was my sister-in-law’s car, and I remember driving down the Napeague stretch. It was so beautiful.”
Forty years later, Watson is still taken with the beauty of Montauk. “I’ve love it,” she says, simply. “It’s home.”