The year is 1903. It is the year the great short story writer Frank O’Connor was born in Cork, the same year the Vatican discusses canonizing Irish archbishop and martyr Oliver Plunkett, some two centuries after he was executed by the British, and the very same year that the University of Dublin decided that it would award degrees to female students as well as male students.
That same year, a fellow named Owen Kieran left Ireland and made his way to America, settling in the northern New York city of Buffalo.
A few weeks back, Kieran was remembered as the first immigrant granted U.S. citizenship by courts serving Buffalo. Apparently, what Annie Moore was to Ellis Island, Owen Kieran was to Buffalo.
But in the wake of yet another bizarre week in Donald Trump’s America, Owen Kieran, and the judges who evoked his name, is indeed worth remembering.
Everyone is talking about the Trump “senior official” who published a nasty, anonymous op-ed essay in The New York Times.
“It’s not just that...the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hell-bent on his downfall. The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them,” the writer revealed.
Trump “resisters,” of course, bellowed their cheers, never imagining how they would feel if, say, a “senior official” under President Obama released a similar kind of missive to Fox News.
Trump supporters, meanwhile, wondered if ostriches could plunge not only their heads into the ground, but also their entire bodies, all in an effort to maintain the fiction that this guy is anything close to sane.
Either way, it’s a good bet Owen Kieran didn’t give a flying fiddle who the U.S. president was in 1903. (One wonders if most native-born Americans could name who was president in 1903.)
Kieran was just glad to have a fresh beginning, as were the 50 Buffalo-area immigrants from over 20 countries who became U.S. citizens back in August.
"We are celebrating a very important anniversary," U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford said to the crowded courtroom on that day.
She and six other judges made a point of meeting together to remind these new Americans from Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere that they were following in the footsteps of an Irishman.
"The remarkable journeys of today's newest 50 citizens, and that of Owen Kieran of Ireland 115 years ago on August 1, 1903, gave rise to our judges sitting together en banc," said U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.
The judges made a conscious effort to sit “en banc” -- all together -- to preside over the naturalization ceremony “to celebrate the region's rich immigrant history,” according to a report in The Buffalo News.
It was the first time they were “appearing together … at a naturalization ceremony” and they also “talked openly of their own immigrant heritage.” Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy spoke of his pride as an "Irish American" and added that his colleagues included a Polish American, a German American and two Italian Americans.
“He also reminded the crowd that, despite their own love of family and history, they are now U.S. citizens,” the report noted.
An anonymous op-ed is one way to resist Donald Trump. Democratic senators making lots of noise at Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings is another.
But these days, when so many grandchildren of immigrants from Poland, Ireland and Italy want to believe they are somehow better than immigrants from Yemen and Somlia, Judge McCarthy and his colleagues have come up with a kindler, gentler kind of resistance.
Owen Kieran would probably appreciate that. Though perhaps not Teddy Roosevelt, who was president in 1903, and was also no fan of immigrants.
The more things change…