Padraic Colum

A page from the play The Land from Padraic Colum Special Collections at O'Reilly Library, DCU. 822.91/COL.



The substantial body of work produced by Colum, includes fiction, drama, poetry, folklore and screenwriting.

The fact that Colum is not identifiable solely as either a poet, a novelist, a dramatist, a biographer, a writer of fiction for adults and children, or a collector of folklore is, arguably, due to the fact that he was a master of numerous literary forms.

The awards, honours and distinction conferred upon him and his work throughout his life and career, as well as retrospectively, give an indication of the significant and wide-ranging appeal and influence of Colum as a writer and storyteller.



In 1904, Colum was one of signatories of the original letter of agreement that led to the establishment of a permanent theatre on Abbey Street.

The Land, staged at the Abbey Theatre on 9 June 1905, was, according to Colum, ‘the first popular success the Abbey Theatre had had’.

Set around 1885-86, the core concern of the play is the inter-generational tension over the ownership of land and the freedom to unburden oneself of such ties.

The tension between establishing roots and the attraction of travel would feature throughout much of his work and life.


Poetry and Song Collecting

Colum spent much of his early life travelling Ireland and collecting folklore and song.

Recorded by many musicians, one of the most popular songs that he is associated with is ‘She Moved Through The Fair’.

Colum claimed that he and composer Herbert Hughes collected the tune in County Donegal, and then wrote many of the lyrics to go with it. The song was published by Boosey & Hawkes in London in Irish Country Songs in 1909.

The poem was also published in Wild Earth and Other Poems (1922).

Probably best known for his poetry, Colum’s iconic poem ‘An Old Woman of the Roads’ was published in his 1907 volume Wild Earth.

Familiar to generations of Irish adults, this poem, first learnt in school, can still be recited by many.

This political poem is built around characterization and situation: it focuses on a homeless old woman and her yearning for a house for herself; freedom from her rootless and wandering existence; and a shelter for the soul.

There are thirty-six lyrics on different kinds of flowers and how different people experience their beauty and fragrance differently. Simplicity is the hallmark of these rhymes.


Collaboration with Mary Colum

The biography is not written in a chronological manner but more from their memories of James Joyce, replete with allusions to his poetry and an effort of ‘dispelling what he considered the mythology of Joyce.’

Our Friend James Joyce stands out among other memoirs about Joyce because of its anecdotal nature. The Colums sustained a relationship with Joyce after he moved to Paris in 1920. Mary died in 1957 while collaborating with Padraic on Our Friend James Joyce, published in 1958. Padraic continued to write about Joyce. One example is a commemorative verse for Joyce in Colum’s Irish Elegies.