Some Irish-Americans, sick of the image of Irishmen as red-nosed drunks hanging from lampposts on St. Patrick's Day, are advancing a different idea this weekend at the City Dock here.
"There's a great richness to Irish culture that never gets out," said Navy Cmdr. Jim Ruland of the St. Brendan Cup Committee, which will run yacht races Friday night and free exhibits of Irish traditional dancing, music and cultural activities here Saturday.
The event honors St. Brendan, an Irish missionary who historians believe may have brought a boatload of monks from County Kerry to America in a 40-foot leather curragh in the sixth century, 900 years before Columbus' famous crossing.
The St. Brendan Cup, a yachting competition and cultural exposition dreamed up by Ruland and half a dozen other Irish-Americans in a pub 18 months ago, is now in its second year and, according to organizers, on a roll.
After a small but successful regatta in Annapolis a year ago, St. Brendan Cup events are turning up this year in New London, Conn., Boston, New York, and Cork across the ocean. With a visit here by the Irish tall ship Asgard II scheduled next year, organizers have visions of St. Brendan activities eventually offering an adjunct and perhaps an alternative to annual St. Patrick's Day revelries.
Not that they wish to start a war. "It would be tragic if it sounded like we wanted to debunk or disparage the great St. Patrick," said Ruland, who marched at the head of the St. Patrick's Day parade in Washington this year as Gael of the Year.
"What we want to stress," he said, "is that we all feel frustrated at the way Irishmen are always depicted as louts. If people want to celebrate their Irishness with green beer and 'Kiss-Me-I'm-Irish' buttons, it's better than nothing. But there's more to being Irish than that. We want to stress some of the traditional values."
The committee's mission to improve the image has proved appealing enough to lure to the fold presidential press secretary James Brady, who will be on hand as honorary chairman at festivities Saturday.
The yacht races Friday night, with about 150 boats entered, will start at dusk and conclude in the wee hours, the better to test navigational skills in honor of Brendan the Navigator, the saint's earthly title.
A cruise boat has been hired to oversee the start, complete with Irish traditional music and a cash bar, the program notes. All 300 seats were sold two weeks ago, Ruland said.
On Saturday, free events include curragh racing in the harbor at 11 a.m., with four of the traditional Irish workboats manned by crews from Annapolis, New York and Boston. From noon to 4 p.m., traditional songs, stories, jigs and reels and piping will be performed on the City Dock.
Cornelius Howard, a former Irish Embassy press secretary and key figure in the development of the Brendan Cup, said he was approached by one Joseph Kane two years ago and asked to help organize "something in Annapolis."
When Kane suggested a St. Patrick's Day event in Annapolis, Howard said he demurred. " 'That's totally, ideologically out,' I said. 'Let's do it right, instead, for St. Brendan.' "