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The Baldwin Project: Padraic Colum

Padraic Colum

(1881 - 1972)

1913 A Boy in Eirinn  
1916 The King of Ireland's Son Celtic Legends
1918 The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said Legends
1918 The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy  
1919 The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes Literary Fairy Tales
1920 The Children of Odin: A Book of Northern Myths Mythology
1920 The Boy Apprenticed to an Enchanter  
1921 The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles Mythology
1921 The Children Who Followed the Piper  
1923 The Six Who Were Left in a Shoe  
1924 The Peep-Show Man  
1924 The Island of the Mighty, Being the Hero Stories of Celtic Britain  
1924 At the Gateways of the Day  
1925 The Bright Islands  
1925 The Voyagers, Being Legends and Romances of Atlantic Discovery  
1925 The Forge in the Forest  
1927 The Fountain of Youth: Stories to Be Told  
1930 Orpheus: Myths of the World  
1933 The White Sparrow  
1933 The Big Tree of Bunlahy: Stories of My Own Countryside  
1935 The Legend of St. Columba  
1940 Where the Winds Never Blew and the Cocks Never Crew  
1943 The Frenzied Prince, Being Heroic Stories of Ancient Ireland  
1966 The Stone of Victory and Other Tales  


Autobiographical Sketch from the Junior Book of Authors, 1935; courtesy of the H.W. Wilson Company
When I am asked for an auto-biographical sketch I am filled with dismay: There is hardly anything to be said about my life—hardly anything that could be of interest to outside readers.

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 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 of 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.

Then I went to live near Dublin. Dunleary, the town I grew up in, has been beautifully described by L. A. G. Strong in The Sea Wall. In my twenties I was living in the city, in Dublin. What is called the Irish Renaissance, the Celtic Revival, was a very vital movement then, affecting not only writers but ordinary young men and women, leading them to learning the Irish language and so giving them an interest in the oldest traditions of the country and preparing them to act in a revolution which took place before they reached middle-age.

An Irish Theatre was being promoted by William Butler Yeats. George Moore was living in Dublin. Douglas Hyde, the head of the Gaelic movement, was lecturing. Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, was running his weekly journal. All sorts of talents were looked for in the generation which was coming on: amongst them, my contemporary, was James Joyce, then at the university.

It was a good time to come of age in. I was brought into all the activity that was going on: my first poems were published by Arthur Griffith; I entered the group in which were William Butler Yeats, "A. E.," Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, the Fay brothers, who were instrumental in making the Irish Theatre an actuality and not merely a literary project. I had a play produced while I was twenty, and my second play The Land was the first success that the Irish Theatre had. Later with James Stephens and Thomas MacDonagh, one of the leaders of the revolutions of 1916, I founded the Irish Review.

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 little serial.

The famous illustrator, Willy Pogany, 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—I have written nearly twenty of them now.

In 1923, on the invitation of the Hawaiian legislature, I went to the Islands to make a survey of their traditional stories and reshape them into stories which could be used to bring the imaginative past of the Polynesian people to the newer groups in the Islands. I published these stories in two volumes, The Gateways of the Day and The Bright Islands.

And this, I am sorry to say, is all I can think of by way of an autobiographical sketch.

In addition to titles previously mentioned, some of Padraic Colum's books which have won favor with young readers are The Boy Who Was Apprenticed to an Enchanter, The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said, The Children of Odin: A Book of Northern Myths, The Children Who Followed the Piper, The Forge in the Forest, The Island of the Mighty, Orpheus—Myths of the World, The Big Tree of Bunlahy, and The White Sparrow.

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