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Padraic Colum (1881-1972)

I WAS BORN in the eighteen and eighties and belong to the same generation of Irish writers as James Joyce, James Stephens, and Thomas MacDonagh. My childhood was spent in the Ireland of the countryside and the small market town, of the street-singers and an odd storyteller; the first verses I knew were from ballads I heard sung. My schooldays were in a town outside Dublin, Kingstown, now gone back to its ancient name, Dunleary, a town between the hills and the sea, around which there were grand opportunities for rambling. In my development as a writer an important event happened to me here: as I was turning twenty I found in the public library Ibsen's Master Builder and Hedda Gabler. The reading of these plays gave my mind a dramatic cast, led me to think in dialogue and action, and this while I had a very slight acquaintance with the theatre.

Just at that time what has been called the Irish Renaissance, the Celtic Revival, was a very vital movement. As we ordinary young men and women knew it, it was a strongly nationalist movement tinged with mysticism and romanticism; it led us to give our time to learning the Irish language in little comradely groups; it gave us an interest in the old traditions and the old pastimes and made us look to the country people as the keepers of what was national and racial; it also prepared the way for an armed revolution in which my contemporaries were leaders. And so when in my twenties I went to live in Dublin there was much to give the spirit of a young man exaltation. An Irish Theatre was being promoted by William Butler Yeats. George Moore who, at the time, was regarded as the most modern, the most exciting novelist in English was to be met on the streets and occasionally heard from a platform. Arthur Griffith, the founder of the militant nationalist movement, was running his weekly journal. A. E. kept open house on Sunday evenings, and those who went there heard talk about poetry and painting and the idealistic side of politics. People were looking for a manifestation of the national spirit in literature.

I wrote my first poems for Arthur Griffith's and A. E.'s journals and was immediately welcomed by people who took trouble to show a young writer how to form himself. And there were young men around who could discuss poetry and prose in a luminous way: James Joyce was one of them. I entered the group in which Yeats, "A. E.," Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, the Fay brothers, were engaged in creating what was to become a national theatre, and picked up dramatic technique watching rehearsals and taking small parts in plays. In my twenties I wrote three plays for the Irish Theatre,-The Land, The Fiddler's House, and Thomas Muskerry.

After this early one, another group arose which included James Stephens and Thomas MacDonagh, one of the poets who was executed after the insurrection of 1916. With them I edited The Irish Review. The idealism of the Irish Revival was embodied in two schools which Padraic Pearse, a poet who wrote in Gaelic, who was one of the leaders of the insurrection of 1916 and was executed after it, now set up. I taught in them. I entered journalism as a profession, writing for the Dublin and some of the London liberal dailies. Then the European war of 1914 broke out. I was just married at the time; a relative in America invited my wife and me to visit her, and I came over.

The first literary opportunity that came to me in America was the writing of stories for a children's page in the Sunday edition of a newspaper. I drew from the Irish folk traditions for the material of these stories. I put them together as my first book for children, The King of Ireland's Son, which was illustrated by Willy Pogany. Its publication made me in the minds of New York publishcrs a writer of children's stories, and Macmillan then commissioned me to take over the Iliad and the Odyssey as a book for children. I did this, and then made over more Greek stories with the Norse and the Welsh and wrote other books for children. My name became known for this sort of work and in 1923, on the invitation of the Legislature, I went to Hawaii to make over the native traditions into a book for children. Legends of Hawaii represents the work I did there.

And I went on writing poems. After my Irish poems, published as Wild Earth, Dramatic Legends, and Old Pastures, I wrote poems about birds and beasts, published as Creatures (but all four volumes have been included in my Collected Poems). I wrote an Irish romance, Castle Conquer, and started a long novel that I am still working on and which will be published with the title The Hen Wife's Son. I also wrote plays. One of them will be produced, it seems, in 1945. Its title is Balloon, and it is a play wholly different from any I have had produced or published; it is a comedy in which I attempt to revive and place in modern circumstances the types of the Commedia dell' Arte. At present my wife and I (she is the author of From These Roots: the ideas that have made modern literature) are attached to the Philosophy Department of Columbia University.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three, copyright 1945

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