As each train pulled into the Montauk train station Sunday morning, passengers clad in green garb stepped off and made their way to Main Street, where they joined throngs of other spectators for the 51st annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“This is the grand finale, the parade to end all parades,” said Nick Cantino, 24, of Riverhead, who had such an “amazing experience” at last year’s parade in Montauk that he decided to return this year with some friends.
While many 20-somethings like Cantino, who sported a foam hat shaped like a beer mug, came for the pub-crawling revelry, there were a variety of reasons that attracted roughly 30,000 people for the festivities.
“Whether you’re Irish or not, it’s a tradition,” said 44-year-old Wendy Carilli, who made the drive from Westchester County, as she does every year with her husband, Jamie Carilli, 48, and their twin daughters.
Like many children in attendance, the Guazhambo kids from East Hampton -- Steve, 9, Gaby, 7, and Derek, 8 -- were looking forward to catching the candy that is thrown from the floats, fire engines and cars that pass by.
Meanwhile, long-time friends and Montauk natives Janine Astorr, 45, Lori Schultz, 49, Lynn Baldwin, 48, and Kim Rosty, 49, treat the parade as a sort of reunion.
“We have a lot of friends in the parade,” said Schultz. “We’re looking forward to seeing people we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Many parade-goers also said that after a long winter, the parade kicks off the season for Montauk.
“It’s a signal that Montauk is coming back,” said Laraine Creegan, executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce.
With temperatures in the 30s and strong winds coming off the water, the chamber’s soup station was a popular attraction once again. Twelve local businesses donated chowders and other soups, which chamber volunteers served in souvenir mugs, to raise money for the Montauk Friends of Erin, which hosts the parade.
The 90-minute parade included several local fire departments, pipes and drum bands, youth groups and an assortment of floats and boats.
The notorious “Coneheads” group walked the route poking fun at a number of current events, including Lance Armstrong’s steroids controversy and the selection of a new pope. The response to superstorm Sandy served as the inspiration for their 2013 parade float. Another group, dubbed “The Geeks,” also turned heads with their float, which parodied the recent Carnival Cruise ship saga using the slogan “Ship Happens.”
Two other floats bore images of Montauk Schools Superintendent Jack Perna, this year's parade grand marshal.
Perna described the experience of leading this year’s parade as “absolutely breathtaking.” As he turned onto Main Street, he was greeted by many of his current and former students. He was also pleased to see Montauk alumni riding on the school district’s float, wearing caps and gowns.
“That was a surprise to me,” he said.
So were the photos that appeared on one float, showcasing Perna dressed in different disguises including a cowboy, Count Dracula and Alfalfa from “The Little Rascals.”
“They are horrible … They will all hear from me later on,” he joked.