Excerpt from a story that ran in the London Sunday Mirror on February 18, 2001:
Loony Americans are set to ban the Shamrock in Boston following complaints from minority groups. They have bizarrely compared Ireland's three-leafed emblem to the Nazi swastika. Now the shamrock will become a thing of the past as the emblems are torn down from playgrounds, doors and windows in housing developments all over the city. The decision has been made by Boston Housing Association following complaints from blacks and Hispanics.Loony indeed, if true. Ban the shamrock in America's most Irish of cities? Ban the shamrock now, on the eve of "the wearin' of the green" for St. Patrick's Day? Preposterous. Surely a rank rumor concocted by loony Brits.
But no. The story turns up again on March 8, 2001 in the Irish Times under the byline of columnist Ruth Dudley Edwards:
My friend — a keen monitor of the wilder shores of political correctness — had found in the U.S.-published Irish Echo newspaper a gem of a report on the Boston Housing Authority's request to its residents to avoid public displays of such "bias indicators" as swastikas, Confederate flags and shamrocks — all deemed to be offensive to some minority residents.Mind you, there hadn't been so much as a peep about banning shamrocks in Boston papers around that time. It wasn't a hot topic of debate among Bostonians. Shamrocks weren't being confiscated in public places.
So, why all the furor?
A partial answer lies in the archives of the Irish Echo, the Irish-American rag cited by Ruth Edwards. There one finds a series of articles — published not in 2001, not in 2000, but way back in 1999 — chronicling a war of words over Irish symbolism in Boston that flared and fizzled in the space of a fortnight.
According to an account in Salon magazine, the controversy was born in a "diversity training" session run by the Boston Housing Authority in which the pros and cons of ethnic symbols in public placers were discussed. During the meeting the opinion was expressed — perhaps, for all we know, merely to illustrate a point — that even a shamrock, the emblem of Ireland, might be negatively perceived by non-Irish members of the community. Filtered through the pen of a newspaper columnist, the remark swelled into allegations that the Housing Authority had actually asked South Boston residents and businesses to remove all shamrocks from display so as not to offend other ethnic groups, and the brouhaha escalated from there. Ultimately, the beleaguered BHA found itself in the position of having to deny it had ever asked for a ban on shamrocks and blamed the debacle on misrepresentation by the "biased" media.
In the aftermath, these few, cold facts remained:
- Shamrocks never were banned in Boston.
- There's reasonable doubt as to whether such a thing was even proposed.
- There hasn't been a peep about banning shamrocks since.
- Because they neglected, as journalists too often do these days, to check the facts before going to press.
- Because, in the poignant words of folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand: "The truth never stands in the way of a good story."
- Because, let's face it, you can't put anything past those loony Americans