And the Shillelagh Goes To . . .

Kathy Keller is the third member of her family to be Montauk’s grand marshal
Kathy Keller is the grand marshal of the 2018 Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day parade. Jane Bimson

For Kathy Keller, this year’s grand marshal of the Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day parade, leading the parade on Sunday is part of a family tradition. The seeds for the annual event were planted by her grandfather, Eddie Pugh, and three of his friends on St. Patrick’s Day in 1947, when, while leading a white horse, they marched from Second House to the Trail’s End restaurant. Where they got the white horse is lost in the mists of time. According to Ms. Keller, the four men and the horse took a brief detour to the Montauk Tavern on Main Street, now known as the Shagwong.

The parade went unmarched for many years after that. But in 1962, 12 men put together a new parade. It has been held annually ever since. “My father was one of the original group,” Ms. Keller said last week. The route, in its post- 1962 form, began in front of the I.G.A. on Main Street, headed east, then up Edgemere Street to the firehouse. Eventually, the route was reversed.

“The Friends of Erin called me in June,” Ms. Keller said. “I thought they were kidding.” It was no practical joke. “I am so honored. My father was the grand marshal in 1969, and my brother in 2007.”

She was asked what her main responsibilities were, as far as parading went. “To show up and not fall down,” she said with a laugh. The Friends of Erin “make sure that I have my tux and top hat,” she added. “They have been great.” Even before being honored as grand marshal, Ms. Keller has played a critical role each year, as secretary of the Friends of Erin for many years and a member its Ladies Auxiliary, by handling the logistics of the parade. She is responsible for the correspondence between the organization and the groups who march — and it is no easy job. Some participants dawdle and procrastinate before confirming their involvement, and once they have finally pitched in, Ms. Keller must figure out where they all fall in the order of the parade.

This year, there are at least 12 fire departments participating, 8 marching bands, 19 floats, and 3 color guards. The order in which they march is important. You don’t want to put a fire department right on top of a marching band, lest the firemen blow their horns and sound their sirens while the band is trying to play. (And there is a reason why horses and other animals usually come near the end.) Everything comes together in the final 10 days before kickoff. “I’m going to be nuts.”

As for which fire department goes where, it starts with the Montauk department, then Amagansett, East Hampton, Springs, and so forth, from east to west, with the departments the farthest west of the hamlet bringing up the rear. Ms. Keller marvels at all the volunteers, as well as both governmental and non-governmental organizations, that pitch in to make the parade a success. “The Parks Department is amazing. They help with everything. The highway department, the fire department. All the fire police come and help. It is really a community effort.” The helping- out continues after the parade, when Mickey Valcich volunteers the services of Mickey’s Carting to help with the cleanup.

In addition to the parade itself, there are two major events in Montauk in connection with St. Patrick’s Day. — every Friday, each year, before the parade — John Behan’s Annual Grand Marshal’s Luncheon is held, during which the marshal will be toasted, roasted, and presented with her sash, top hat, and shillelagh. Tomorrow’s party will begin at noon at the Montauk Yacht Club. Tickets, which can be bought at the Montauk Laundromat, if still available, are $60; more information can be found at the Montauk Friends of Erin website. Then, on Saturday, the Friends of Erin will throw its traditional cocktail gala, with a dinner buffet and music by the band Booga Sugar, at Gurney’s Hotel and Spa from 4 to 8 p.m. Tickets for the bash are $75 in advance and $100 at the door. Ms. Keller will reportedly be marched into the venue by the Amityville Highland Pipe Band.

“I think of the parade as the beginning of spring,” Ms. Keller said. “The restaurants start opening up, the motels start opening up, and the shops.” This year, Ms. Keller will be wearing the green — and orange — as she leads the community forward to greener days.