Authors: Padraic Colum

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish-born American poet and playwright

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Castle Conquer, 1923

The Flying Swans, 1957

Short Fiction:

Selected Short Stories of Padraic Colum, 1985 (Sanford Sternlicht, editor)


Wild Earth: A Book of Verse, 1907

Dramatic Legends, and Other Poems, 1922

Creatures, 1927

Way of the Cross, 1927

Old Pastures, 1930

Poems, 1932

The Story of Lowry Main, 1937

Flower Pieces: New Poems, 1938

The Collected Poems of Padraic Colum, 1953

The Vegetable Kingdom, 1954

Ten Poems, 1957

Irish Elegies, 1958

The Poet’s Circuits: Collected Poems of Ireland, 1960

Images of Departure, 1969

Selected Poems of Padraic Colum, 1989 (Sanford Sternlicht, editor)


The Children of Lir, pb. 1901 (one act)

Broken Soil, pr. 1903

The Land, pr., pb. 1905

The Fiddler’s House, pr., pb. 1907 (revision of Broken Soil)

The Miracle of the Corn, pr. 1908

The Destruction of the Hostel, pr. 1910

Thomas Muskerry, pr., pb. 1910

The Desert, pb. 1912

The Betrayal, pr. 1914

Three Plays, pb. 1916, revised 1925, 1963 (includes The Land, The Fiddler’s House, and Thomas Muskerry)

Mogu the Wanderer: Or, The Desert, pb. 1917, pr. 1932 (revision of The Desert)

The Grasshopper, pr. 1917 (adaptation of Eduard Keyserling’s play Ein Frühlingsofer)

Balloon, pb. 1929

Moytura: A Play for Dancers, pr., pb. 1963

The Challengers, pr. 1966 (3 one-act plays: Monasterboice, Glendalough, and Cloughoughter)

Carricknabauna, pr. 1967 (also known as The Road Round Ireland)

Selected Plays of Padraic Colum, pb. 1986 (includes The Land, The Betrayal, Glendalough, and Monasterboice; Sanford Sternlicht, editor)


Hansel and Gretel, 1954 (adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera)


My Irish Year, 1912

The Road Round Ireland, 1926

Cross Roads in Ireland, 1930

A Half-Day’s Ride: Or, Estates in Corsica, 1932

Our Friend James Joyce, 1958 (with Mary Colum)

Ourselves Alone: The Story of Arthur Griffith and the Origin of the Irish Free State, 1959

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

A Boy in Eirinn, 1913

The King of Ireland’s Son, 1916

The Adventures of Odysseus, 1918

The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said, 1918

The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes, 1919

The Boy Apprenticed to an Enchanter, 1920

The Children of Odin, 1920

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles, 1921

The Children Who Followed the Piper, 1922

At the Gateways of the Day, 1924

The Island of the Mighty: Being the Hero Stories of Celtic Britain Retold from the Mabinogion, 1924

Six Who Were Left in a Shoe, 1924

The Bright Islands, 1925

The Forge in the Forest, 1925

The Voyagers: Being Legends and Romances of Atlantic Discovery, 1925

The Fountain of Youth: Stories to Be Told, 1927

Orpheus: Myths of the World, 1930

The Big Tree of Bunlahy: Stories of My Own Countryside, 1933

The White Sparrow, 1933

The Legend of Saint Columba, 1935

Legends of Hawaii, 1937

Where the Winds Never Blewand the Cocks Never Crew, 1940

The Frenzied Prince: Being Heroic Stories of Ancient Ireland, 1943

A Treasury of Irish Folklore, 1954

Story Telling, New and Old, 1961

The Stone of Victory, and Other Tales of Padraic Colum, 1966


During his seventy years as a writer, Padraic Colum (KAWL-uhm) composed creative works in such diverse areas as theater, lyric poetry, children’s literature, short and long fiction, and biography. Before his emigration to the United States in 1914, he played a key role in the Irish literary revival. In the United States, he became a gifted teller of folktales for children and continued to refine his skill as a lyric poet. He completed his most admired book of poetry, Images of Departure, in 1969 at the age of eighty-seven. He enriched the cultural life of both his native Ireland and his adopted country, the United States.{$I[AN]9810001302}{$I[A]Colum, Padraic}{$I[geo]IRELAND;Colum, Padraic}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Colum, Padraic}{$I[tim]1881;Colum, Padraic}

Padraic Colum

(Library of Congress)

Unlike almost all the important Irish writers of his generation (including James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and John Millington Synge), Colum was not from a well-to-do or even a middle-class family. His was a family of peasants. During his childhood, he knew intimately the suffering and the hopes of Irish farmers. In his literary works, Colum describes eloquently and persuasively the basic dignity and the universality of common people not only in Ireland but in many other countries as well.

Colum was born in 1881 in County Longford, Ireland. He was the eldest of the eight children born to Patrick and Susan Collumb. His father was in charge of the workhouse in which the writer was born. An alcoholic, his father failed to support his family properly. In 1890 the family moved close to Dublin, and only then could Colum begin his formal education, which would last only eight years. Colum overcame this inadequate schooling. In many ways he was a self-educated man. In 1901 he joined the Gaelic League and began to pursue his lifelong interest in Irish culture and folklore. In the same year, he started using the name Padraic Colum instead of his given name, Patrick Collumb. “Padraic” is the Gaelic form for “Patrick,” and Saint Colum was a famous Irish saint and poet. Colum soon met James Joyce, who recognized his skill as a writer. Joyce and Padraic Colum would remain close friends until Joyce’s death in 1941.

The first decade of the twentieth century was an extraordinarily productive period in Colum’s literary career. In 1903 he became one of the founding members of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Between 1903 and 1910, he wrote three important plays: Broken Soil (revised in 1907 and renamed The Fiddler’s House), The Land, and Thomas Muskerry. These powerful plays, which, as Colum admitted, were strongly influenced by the dramatic realism of Henrik Ibsen, portrayed common Irish people in an unsentimental manner. The witty dialogues in The Land and The Fiddler’s House were greatly admired by Dublin theatergoers, who appreciated Colum’s ironic commentaries on contemporary social problems in Ireland. Thomas Muskerry, however, provoked intense public discussion in Ireland because it portrayed the cruel exploitation of the title character by members of his own family. Thomas Muskerry himself is the only sympathetic character in this play. While dramatically effective, Thomas Muskerry does present a fairly bleak view of the world. A modern scholar, Sanford Sternlicht, compared Thomas Muskerry to William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Muskerry, like King Lear, comes to understand his profound dignity only after much undeserved suffering. After his dramatic masterpiece Thomas Muskerry, Colum rarely wrote for the stage. In the early 1960’s, however, he did write five fascinating one-act No plays (a Japanese form) on Irish themes.

It was also during the first decade of the twentieth century that Colum began to write lyric poetry. His 1907 Wild Earth: A Book of Verse established his reputation as the major Irish Catholic poet of his generation. In such finely crafted poems as “The Plougher,” “A Drover,” and “An Old Woman of the Roads,” Colum avoided facile sentimentality and conveyed to his readers his belief that a search for meaning and happiness can coexist with a tragic vision of the world. The twenty-five poems in the volume present very eloquently the true dignity of Irish peasants, whose apparently simple and yet emotionally complex lives point to the difficulty of facing such realities as death, the loss of love, religious faith, and poverty. In composing the poems in this collection, Colum took recognizable situations and character types from Irish popular culture and developed them with an eloquence and psychological complexity never before attained in Irish poetry.

In 1909 Padraic Colum met Mary Maguire, a graduate of University College, Dublin. Three years later they married, and they emigrated to the United States together. Like her husband, Mary Colum was a writer. The couple often taught literature courses together at Columbia University. Her major literary work was her 1947 autobiography, Life and the Dream. Between 1914 and his wife’s death in 1957, Padraic Colum wrote some twenty-five books for children, numerous short stories, and two novels: Castle Conquer and The Flying Swans. The Flying Swans, his most creative work of fiction, is a Bildungsroman which describes the aesthetic and moral development of an Irish writer named Ulick O’Reheill. Similarities between The Flying Swans and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922) have been noted by many critics. Although Joyce’s influence on his friend and biographer Padraic Colum is undeniable, The Flying Swans is an original novel which has never received the critical attention it deserves.

Between the publication in 1916 of The King of Ireland’s Son and his 1954 anthology A Treasury of Irish Folklore, Padraic Colum was famous above all for his refined retelling of folktales for children. He used all his skill as a writer in order to encourage creativity in children and to transmit the essential values of popular culture and legends to young readers. Colum never limited himself to Irish legends: His folktales were set in such diverse cultures as ancient Greece, medieval Scandinavia, the Middle East, and Hawaii. Colum’s children’s books continue to bring pleasure to new generations of young readers.

Despite the diversity in his contribution to lyric poetry, drama, fiction, and children’s literature, there is a definite unity in Colum’s works. He consistently expressed in refined verse and prose the universal values in mythology, folklore, and popular culture. His writings made generations of readers more sensitive to the beauty in daily life.

His contemporaries in Ireland and the United States recognized his importance as a writer. Both Irish and American universities granted him honorary doctorates, and he received medals from both the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of Irish Letters. Although critics have generally praised his creativity as a poet and playwright, his two novels and numerous works of children’s literature have not attracted much scholarly attention.

BibliographyBowen, Zack. Padraic Colum: A Biographical-Critical Introduction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970. This excellent introduction to Colum’s works was based on a careful study of his writings but also on extensive interviews between Padraic Colum and Zack Bowen in the 1960’s.Colum, Mary. Life and the Dream. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1947. A firsthand account by the playwright’s wife of the impact of the Irish Literary Revival. The events and personalities of that creative period are regarded nostalgically and rather uncritically. Gives some immediate access to the atmosphere in which Colum’s plays were produced and received.Hogan, Robert, Richard Burnham, and Daniel P. Poteet. The Rise of the Realists. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1979. This volume of an ongoing history of theater in modern Ireland concentrates on the years of Colum’s involvement with the Abbey Theatre and the national theater movement. The authors’ documentary approach ensures the inclusion of much firsthand, specialist material pertaining to the production and reception of Colum’s most important plays.Journal of Irish Literature 2, no. 1 (January, 1973). This special issue on Colum contains a miscellany of Colum material, including tributes from a number of Irish scholars, a substantial interview, and articles surveying Colum’s achievements. Also included is a portfolio of work by Colum, including two plays, poems for children and other verse, and various prose pieces, one of which is a self-portrait.Murphy, Ann. “Appreciation: Padraic Colum (1881-1972), National Poet.” Eire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies 17, no. 4 (Winter, 1982): 128-147. A thoughtful essay that describes well the important place of Padraic Colum in twentieth century Irish poetry.Murray, Christopher. “Padraic Colum’s The Land and Cultural Nationalism.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 2, no. 2 (1996): 5-15. A short but accurate description of Colum’s support for Irish independence from Great Britain.Sternlicht, Sanford. Padraic Colum. Boston: Twayne, 1985. An introductory study of Colum’s long life and various literary achievements. Much attention is given to Colum’s poems. Also contains a detailed chapter on the prose and another on Colum’s works of mythology, which are associated with his children’s writing. Includes a chronology and a bibliography.Sternlicht, Sanford. “Padraic Colum: Poet of the 1960’s.” Colby Literary Quarterly 25, no. 4 (1989): 253-257. A short but insightful analysis of Images of Departure elegies written by Colum in the 1960’s.
Categories: Authors