Ever heard of the Ballyshaners? No? Me either. However, I found out who they are Friday night. The Ballyshaners put on the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Alexandria, Virginia every year, which was on Saturday. Friday night was their banquet celebrating all their hard work preserving Irish heritage and putting together the parade. This year’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was dedicated to all the brave men and women who served in Vietnam.
We enjoyed cocktails and dinner at the Alexandria Holiday Inn with the town crier, an army Lt Col dressed in his refinery, organizers from New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, the president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, leaders in Alexandria, and the Grand Marshal Mr. Bryan “Bugsy” Watson of Bugsy’s Tavern in Old Town.
The black tie party included men in colorful kilts, a man dressed as a 1700s town crier, men and woman with St. Patrick’s Day sashes, and lots of green. After the cocktail party, the town crier rang his bell and cried, “Hear ye, hear ye, dinner has commenced!” I loved the enthusiasm the town crier had for his role.
The belle of the ball was Pat Troy and the Grand Marshall Mr. Bryan “Bugsy” Watson. Pat Troy was the master of ceremonies. Troy, now in his seventies, is originally from Ireland with bright, grey hair who used to own Pat Troy’s restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. To say this man is a showman is an understatement. He loves to crack a good joke and tell a good story.
The mood at the dinner was light, warm and vivacious. Clearly everyone there loves their country, their Irish heritage, and works very hard to preserve both. Before dinner we sang the Irish anthem, the National anthem, and a few words were shared thanking everyone from our service people to those working hard to preserve the Irish American heritage.
After dinner, leaders in the Irish American community of Alexandria were honored, which included Pat Troy. He was given a painting of an army regiment fighting overseas.
The highlight was having the Grand Marshal Mr. Bryan “Bugsy” Watson parade into the room with an ice hockey stick. Watson played professional ice hockey with the Washington Capitals and had over 2,000 penalty hits. He described how very honored he was to be the Grand Marshall.
According to the Ballyshaners’ website, Bryan Joseph “Bugsy” Watson was born in Bancroft, Ontario, Canada. His long and colorful career as a professional hockey player actually formed its roots when he was quite young. He was recruited by the Montreal Canadians at the age of 13 to play in their Junior system. At the age of 16 he made the Junior A team where he played for the legendary Scotty Bowman. His final year in the Junior League, he was team captain and Most Valuable Player.
Being in the Montreal Canadian system had its pluses and minuses for Bugsy. On the minus side, there appeared to be no permanent place for him on the big team. But on the plus side, he had the good fortune to be teamed with Doug Harvey, one of the greatest defenseman ever to play the game. Also on the plus side, in his rookie year of 1963-64 he was part of the Stanley Cup winning Canadians.
He got his big break when he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings and became a great favorite with the Red Wing fans. He had a great series in the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the great Bobby Hull where he earned the nickname Bugsy.
Bugsy’s career as a defenseman spanned 17 years. This included three seasons with the Washington Capitals from 1976 to 1979. When he first joined the Canadians as a rookie in the 1963-64 season, there were only six teams in the league. By the time he retired in 1979, the league had grown to sixteen teams.
In 878 career NHL games, Watson scored 17 goals, had 135 assists, and amassed 2,212 penalty minutes!
His trade to the Washington Capitals in 1976 turned out to be a real blessing for Old Town. He and his wife Lindy quickly fell in love with the area. And in 1983, after his retirement from hockey, they opened Bugsy’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Alexandria. As they are quick to point out, not only do they offer great food, but it is a must stop place for sports fans.
This was a beautiful event honoring the many contributors to Old Town Alexandria and Irish American heritage and our Vietnam veterans.
If you want to get involved with the Ballyshaners they meet every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. (or after the business meeting) at Ireland’s Own in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.
WHEN: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
111 North Pitt Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314