Padraic Colum

Photograph shows Padraic Colum. Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964. Portrait photographs of celebrities. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Padraic Colum was born on the 8th of December, 1881, at a workhouse in County Longford, where his father worked as the master.

He was the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Columb. Padraic’s father was called Patrick Collumb. It is said that their home, Collumbkille was named after the family. His paternal grandfather was Donald Collumb, a farmer and his maternal grandfather, Richard MacCormack worked in the gardens of Powerscourt.

After losing his job in 1889, Patrick Collumb moved to the United States to participate in the Colorado Gold Rush. Padraic and his mother and siblings remained in Ireland, having moved to live with his grandmother in County Cavan.

It was at his grandmother’s house that he was first introduced to the transfixing craft of storytelling. Colum would later draw on the stories of his childhood as a writer.

When Colum’s father returned in 1892, the family moved to Glasthule, near Dublin, where his father was employed as an assistant manager at Sandycove and Glasthule railway station. His son attended the local national school.

When Susan Collumb died in 1907, the family was temporarily split up. Padraic and one brother remained in Dublin, while their father and remaining children moved back to Longford. Colum finished school the following year and at the age of seventeen, he passed an exam for and was awarded a clerkship in the Irish Railway Clearing House. He stayed in this job until 1903.

During this period, Colum started to write and met a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ (George Russell). He also joined the Gaelic League and was a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He became a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he met James Joyce and the two became lifelong friends. During the riots caused by the Abbey Theatre's production of The Playboy of the Western World, Padraic Colum's father, Patrick Collumb, was one of the protestors. Padraic himself was not engaged in the protests, although he did pay his father's fine afterwards.

Colum would become one of the most prolific Irish storytellers, with his work spanning a range of forms and genres, including drama, poetry, biography and fiction for adults and children.

Colum was a leading figure in the Literary Revival but also a hugely significant and widely respected children's writer in the United States, where three of his books were cited (retroactively) as Newbery Honor Books.

Colum and his wife Mary lectured at Columbia University from 1939 to 1956 and collaborated on many projects, including one with their friend James Joyce on the transcription of Finnegans Wake. In 1922, Colum was commissioned by the Hawai’ian Legislature to write up Hawaii’s myths and legends as children’s stories.

Colum became an American citizen in 1945, thirty-one years after arriving in the US. He died at the age of ninety, in 1972, in Enfield, Connecticut, USA, and is buried in St Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, Co. Dublin. Ireland.