The story began in the summer of 1999. Against a background of racial tension, Boston Housing Association hosted a voluntary meeting promoting diversity in the housing projects.
The shamrock was mentioned, and it lit a fuse that just keeps on burning.
Boston is proud of its Irish heritage. While it's long been a melting pot of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the largest proportion of Bostonians claim Irish descent.
20.4% of the population at the last count, which makes it the highest concentration of Irish-Americans in the whole of the USA.
The entire of Boston - and South Boston in particular - is habitually festooned with shamrocks. Not the plant itself, but paintings, murals and iconic prints gracing shutters, windows, doors and the sides of buildings. The mere suggestion that they might not be appropriate to display in a multicultural society incensed Bostonians before the news even escaped the city.
But it all turned out to be a storm in a tea-cup. (If such a phrase is appropriate, given that this IS Boston.)
Traced back to source, it turned out that the original public meeting had taken on the aspect of a debate. Boston Housing Association representative Linda Argo had led a discussion about triggers for tension. Was it permissible to display, say, a Confederate flag or a Nazi swastika on a South Boston window?
While a chorus of 'no, no, no' was instantly forthcoming, she turned the issue on its head. What about a shamrock? After all that only really symbolized the Irish, in a city where nearly 80% of the population were not of Irish descent.
She was getting people to think. She wasn't suggesting for a moment that the ubiquitous shamrock should actually be banned. But that's what it sounded like to some in the audience and the uproar was instant.