A man of many parts was that Padraic Colum and yet few now know of him. Poet, playwright, very successful children’s author, he made a big splash but the ripples of his success have close to disappeared. His story telling powers are undiminished and his materials (myths and legends) remain as important as ever. Colum is the type of author whom we are seeking to bring to the attention of a discerning audience.
Padraic Colum was born Patrick Collumb, the first of eight children, in Collumbkille, County Longford in the center of Ireland on December 8, 1881. His father managed the local workhouse – a combination of homeless shelter, YMCA, hostel and work center.
Colum describes his early life in The Junior Book of Authors:
I was born nearly in the middle of Ireland. The town I was born in has nothing to be said for it. However, my father happened to be the master of a workhouse; consequently I was born where waifs, strays, tramps congregated.
In those far-back days the workhouse was an oddly significant institution in Ireland. It was mainly for people who were too poor to support themselves – these were the paupers, mostly old men and women or younger people more or less incapacitated or defective. Having the run of the institution from the kitchens to the dormitories, as a child I saw a lot of these paupers and was often entertained by the gossip and the histories of old men and women who were survivals from an Ireland that had disappeared.
But I wasn’t nearly as much interested in the resident-paupers as I was in the “casuals” – people who entered for a night and went away in the morning, coming into the workhouse for a night’s shelter and supper and breakfast. This particular workhouse was on the highway between the east and the west, between Leinster and Connacht, and the “casuals” whom I watched coming and going through the big gate were men and women who were genuine wayfarers, nomads, the “masterless men” whom English writers noted as being common in Ireland generations before – tramps and their women and children.
There were also itinerant artisans, men who followed decaying trades, and ballad singers with tramp fiddlers and pipers. As I watched them taking the road of a morning, going I knew not into what mysterious region, the romance of the road was brought home to me and I think it has never quite left my mind. It is on account of these early impressions, I think, that so many of my poems and stories are about wandering people.
While I was still a child I left the town I was born in and went to live in the next county. There, in my grandmother’s house, I heard stories before I read them and songs and scraps poetry before I had to learn any at school. I was fortunate, I believe, in getting this sort of oral knowledge, which left me with an interest in legends and traditions.
Colum only received eight years of formal education. In 1898, at seventeen, he began work as a clerk at the Irish Railway Clearing House in Dublin. In Dublin he fell into, and became a founding member of the Celtic Revival/Irish Renaissance. He kept company with and became friends of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, J.M. Synge and other leading lights. While still working as a clerk, he penned a number of plays which were well received.
In 1901, when barely twenty, he helped found the Irish National Theatre (later called the Abbey Theatre) as well as later, in 1911, The Irish Review. He wrote close to a dozen plays in the first decade of the century, several of which were produced at the Abbey Theatre. He also published a couple of collections of his poetry. It was in this period that Colum converted his birth name of Patrick Collumb to its Gaelic equivalent, Padraic Colum.
In 1912 he married a fellow writer, Mary Macguire. Colum at this point had also become involved in the Irish Volunteers and took part in gun-running for the independence movement. In 1914, short on cash, the Colums moved to the USA, initially for just a few months. In his autobiographical piece in The Junior Book of Authors Colum recounts how he came to start writing children’s stories.
Then in 1914 I came to America for the first time. It was while in America, in the first year I was here, that I began to write stories for children. My beginning in this field was something of an accident. In order to keep what knowledge I had of Irish I used to translate every day some passages from that language. The only text I had at one time was a long folk story. This I translated. Then one of the editors of the New York Tribune who had charge of a children’s page asked me if I had anything that could go on that page. I handed in my translation and it was published as a serial.
The famous illustrator, Willy Pogány, who had just come to America, saw the stories and suggested that I should do a children’s book which he would illustrate. I put the translations together, added greatly to them, and wove them into a long narrative, which was The King of Ireland’s Son. Afterwards the Macmillan Company commissioned me to make the Iliad and the Odyssey into a children’s book. And so I started writing books for children.
Other than a three-year sojourn in France in the early thirties, the Colums remained in the US and became American citizens in 1945. While continuing to write plays and poetry as well as a couple of novels, from the 1920’s onwards, Colum lived comfortably off his success as a children’s author. Among his literary peers it seems as if there was a view that he never fulfilled his promise as a playwright. Perhaps it is another example of the subversive American practice of coaxing people to provide what is wanted rather than what they wish to produce.
While there might have been a loss in rarified literature, I suspect it was more than made up for by the provision of wonderful retellings of folk tales and legends, for this was Colum’s medium. By a significant margin, his most popular books were the retelling of the Greek myths and legends in The Children’s Homer and The Golden Fleece. Next in line would be his Nordic and Irish myths and legends; The Children of Odin, A Treasury of Irish Folklore, Nordic Gods and Heroes, and The King of Ireland’s Son.
I am especially partial to the Greek myths and legends. My youngest is a keen aficionado of epics, myths and legends and over the years I have probably read him a half dozen versions of Iliad and Odysseus. To test whether Colum had aged too much for the modern generation, last night I read the opening of The Children’s Homer to him. It begins:
This is the story of Odysseus, the most renowned of all the heroes the Greek poets have told us of--of Odysseus, his wars and his wanderings. And this story of Odysseus begins with his son, the youth who was called Telemachus.
The kiss of the Blarney Stone holds good and it looks like I am on the hook for the rest of the book.
Padraic Colum died January 12, 1972.
|Great Myths of the World by Padraic Colum Suggested|
|The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1918 Children's Stories Suggested|
|The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1918 Children's Stories Highly Recommended|
|The Children of Odin: A Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1920 Children's Stories Highly Recommended|
|The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1921 Children's Stories Recommended|
|The Island of the Mighty, Being the Hero Stories of Celtic Britain Retold from the Mabinogion by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Wilfred Jones 1924 Children's Stories Suggested|
The Children of Lir [and] Brian Boru by Padraic Colum 1902 Plays
A Fiddler's House (produced in Dublin by Padraic Colum 1903 Plays
Broken Soil by Padraic Colum 1903 Play
The Foleys [and] Eoghan's Wife by Padraic Colum 1903 Plays
The Kingdom of the Young by Padraic Colum 1903 Plays
The Saxon Shillin' by Padraic Colum 1903 Plays
The Land by Padraic Colum 1905 Play
Heather Ale: A Book of Verse by Padraic Colum 1907 Poems
Studies (miscellany) by Padraic Colum 1907 Other
The Fiddlers' House by Padraic Colum 1907 Play
Wild Earth: A Book of Verse by Padraic Colum 1907 Poems
The Miracle of the Corn: A Miracle Play by Padraic Colum 1908 Plays
The Destruction of the Hostel, produced in Dublin by Padraic Colum 1910 Plays
Thomas Muskerry by Padraic Colum 1910 Play
My Irish Year by Padraic Colum 1912 (autobiography)
The Desert by Padraic Colum 1912 Plays
A Boy in Eirinn by Padraic Colum 1913 Children's Stories
Broad-Sheet Ballads, Being a Collection of Irish Popular Songs by Padraic Colum 1913 Other
The Betrayal by Padraic Colum 1913 Plays
Poems of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood by Padraic Colum 1916 Poems
The Irish Rebellion of 1916 and Its Martyrs: Erin's Tragic Easter by Padraic Colum 1916 Other
The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum 1916 Children's Stories
Three Plays: The Fiddler's House, The Land, Thomas Muskerry by Padraic Colum 1916 Plays
Wild Earth and Other Poems by Padraic Colum 1916 Poems
"The Grasshopper" by Padraic Colum 1917 Plays
Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels by Padraic Colum 1917 Children's Stories
Mogu the Wanderer by Padraic Colum 1917 Play
The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1918 Children's Stories
The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said by Padraic Colum 1918 Children's Stories
The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1918 Children's Stories
The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by Padraic Colum 1919 Children's Stories
The Boy Apprenticed to an Enchanter by Padraic Colum 1920 Children's Stories
The Children of Odin: A Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1920 Children's Stories The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Willy Pogany 1921 Children's Stories
An Anthology of Irish Verse by Padraic Colum 1922 Poems
Dramatic Legends and Other Poems by Padraic Colum 1922 Poems
The Children Who Followed the Piper by Padraic Colum 1922 Children's Stories
A Thousand and One Nights: Tales of Wonder and Magnificence by Padraic Colum 1923 Children's Stories
Castle Conquer by Padraic Colum 1923 Novel
The Six Who Were Left in a Shoe by Padraic Colum 1923 Children's Stories
Tales and Legends of Hawaii Volume 1: At the Gateways of the Day Volume 2: The Bright Islands by Padraic Colum 1924 Children's Stories
The Island of the Mighty, Being the Hero Stories of Celtic Britain Retold from the Mabinogion by Padraic Colum and illustrated by Wilfred Jones 1924 Children's Stories
The Peep-Show Man by Padraic Colum 1924 Children's Stories
The Forge in the Forest by Padraic Colum 1925 Children's Stories
The Voyages, Being Legends and Romances of Atlantic Discovery by Padraic Colum 1925 Children's Stories
The Road 'round Ireland by Padraic Colum 1926 Other
The Way of the Cross: Devotions on the Progress of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the Judgement Hall to Calvary by Padraic Colum 1926 Poems
Creatures by Padraic Colum 1927 Poems
The Fountain of Youth: Stories to Be Told by Padraic Colum 1927 Children's Stories
Book of Modern Catholic Prose by Padraic Colum 1928 Other
James Stephens by Padraic Colum 1928 Other
Balloon by Padraic Colum 1929 Plays
The Strindbergian Balloon by Padraic Colum 1929 Play
Cross Roads in Ireland by Padraic Colum 1930 Other
Old Pastures by Padraic Colum 1930 Poems
Orpheus: Myths of the World by Padraic Colum 1930 Other
Three Men: A Tale by Padraic Colum 1930 Children's Stories
Ella Young: An Appreciation by Padraic Colum 1931 Other
A Half-Day's Ride; or, Estates in Corsica by Padraic Colum 1932 Essays
Poems by Padraic Colum 1932 Poems
The Big Tree of Bunlahy: Stories of My Own Countryside by Padraic Colum 1933 Children's Stories
The White Sparrow by Padraic Colum 1933 Children's Stories
The Legend of Saint Columba by Padraic Colum 1935 Other
The Story of Lowery Maen by Padraic Colum 1937 Epic Poem
Flower Pieces: New Poems by Padraic Colum 1938 Poems
The Jackdaw by Padraic Colum 1939 Poems
Where the Winds Never Blew and the Cocks Never Crew by Padraic Colum 1940 Children's Stories
The Frenzied Prince, Being Heroic Stories of Ancient Ireland by Padraic Colum 1943 Children's Stories
The Show-Booth by Padraic Colum 1948 Plays
Ten Poems by Padraic Colum 1952 Poems
The Arabian Nights: Tales of Wonder and Magnificence by Padraic Colum 1953 Children's Stories
The Collected Poems of Padraic Colum by Padraic Colum 1953 Poems
A Treasury of Irish Folklore: The Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom, Ballads, and Songs of the Irish People by Padraic Colum 1954 Other
The Vegetable Kingdom by Padraic Colum 1954 Poems
The Flying Swans by Padraic Colum 1957 Novel
Garland Sunday by Padraic Colum 1958 Poems
Irish Elegies by Padraic Colum 1958 Poems
Our Friend James Joyce by Padraic Colum 1958 Memoir
Ourselves Alone! The Story of Arthur Griffith and the Origin of the Irish Free State by Padraic Colum 1959 Other
The Poet's Circuits: Collected Poems of Ireland by Padraic Colum 1960 Poems
Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others by Padraic Colum 1962 Other
Moytura: A Play for Dancers by Padraic Colum 1963 Plays
The Poems of Samuel Ferguson by Padraic Colum 1963 Poems
Roofs of Gold: Poems to Read Aloud by Padraic Colum 1964 Poems
The Challengers: Monasterboice, Glendalough, Cloughoughter by Padraic Colum 1966 Plays
The Stone of Victory and Other Tales by Padraic Colum 1966 Children's Stories
"The Road 'round Ireland" by Padraic Colum 1967 Plays
Images of Departure by Padraic Colum 1969 Poems
Selected Short Stories of Padraic Colum by Padraic Colum 1985 Other
Selected Plays of Padraic Colum by Padraic Colum 1989 Plays
Selected Poems of Padraic Colum by Padraic Colum 1989 Poems
Kate Mary Ellen and the Fairies by Padraic Colum 1997 Children's Stories