Padraic Colum

Illustration by Willy Pogany from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift and edited by Padraic Colum held at the Padraic Colum Special Collections at O'Reilly Library, DCU.


As well as an award winning children’s writer, Colum was also renowned as an editor of collections of fairy tales and myths. His collaboration with renowned illustrators and artists emphasises his status as a children's writer.

Children's Literature


The King of Ireland’s Son (1916) is one of Colum’s best retellings, illustrated by Willy Pogany.

This is the work that consolidated Colum’s position as a children’s author in the United States. It began as a series of stories printed in the New York Sunday Tribune.

The work is a testament to Colum’s craftsmanship, playful prose, wit, humour, and his love for his country and its legends.

Children's Literature


His edition of Gulliver’s Travels, with illustrations by Willy Pogany, was published around the same time Colum was editing Poems by Jonathan Swift (1962) and gives evidence of his adeptness at adapting classic tales for adults and making them accessible to younger readers.

Children's Literature

Colum's Irishness

Where The Winds Never Blew (1940) and The Six That Were Left In A Shoe (1923) were written almost twenty years apart, but feature some of the same animal characters.

These illustrated stories are reminiscent of classic animal tales but have a distinctly Irish feel to them.

In Where The Winds Never Blew, the old Irish craft of broom-making with heather is captured in the first illustration and the story closes with the image of an old woman sitting by a traditional Irish hearth.

Colum also draws on the Irish language as inspiration for these stories; for example, Droileen the bird gets its name from the Irish word dreoilín, which means wren.

Although he became an American citizen in 1945, as a storyteller Colum’s work always remained shaped by his Irishness.

Children's Literature

Collaborating with Illustrators

The Big Tree of Bunlahy: Stories of My Own Countryside (1933) is a collection of stories that incorporates original tales and retellings of myths and legends.

Along with The Golden Fleece and The Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles (1921) and The Voyagers: Being Legends and Romances of Atlantic Discovery (1925), The Big Tree of Bunlahy (1933) was one of three of Colum’s booked that were cited retroactively as Newbery Honor books.

The Big Tree of Bunlahy is illustrated by Jack B. Yeats. Here we can see Yeats’s watercolor frontispiece for the collection, where the Clock-Mender tells the story of The First Harp.

As one of Ireland’s finest artists, Yeats illustrated many children's books.

Colum and award-winning Hungarian illustrator Willy Pogany collaborated on many projects, beginning with The King of Ireland’s Son (1916).

As far as illustration is concerned, The Frenzied Prince (1943) is the most lavish and grandest, incorporating both full-colour and charcoal illustrations, and is dedicated to Jack B Yeats.

Above we see Pogany’s illustration of Cuchulain’s encounter with the Morrigan.

The White Sparrow ( 1933) is an original work by Colum for a younger readership. Illustrated by Caldecott medal winner Lynd Ward, it is a dual narrative that follows the form of a bildungsroman.It appeals to both adult and child readers and is characterized by Colum’s skill at drawing on established motifs – here ‘The Ugly Duckling’ – while reshaping them for his own ends.

The Boy Apprenticed to an Enchanter is a fantasy narrative that was published in 1920.

Colum makes use of several legendary characters from Eastern and Western storytelling.

This story is often read in light of Irish Independence and as one of his best narrative fictions.

All these elements come together in a reimagination of a young Irish boy’s victory over an oppressor.

Children's Literature

Commissioned Work

As a result of this success as a writer for children, Colum was commissioned by the Hawai’ian Legislature to retell the myths and legends of the islands for a child readership.

At the Gateways of the Day (1924) is the first of Colum’s three volumes of Hawai’ian myth published by Yale University Press.

Colum reshapes these myths in a European storytelling framework, and his style here is similar to the one he adopted for his retellings of Irish myth.

The fact that Colum, an Irish immigrant, was commissioned by the Hawai’ian Legislature, speaks to the status of Irish culture and the craft of storytelling at this time.

A first edition of this book was presented by the Government of Ireland to US President Barack Obama on his visit to Ireland in May 2011.