Born in Longford in December 1881, Padraic Colum grew up on his grandmother’s farm in Cavan, and later in Sandycove, where his father was stationmaster. He became involved in literary and theatrical life in Dublin where his plays were produced and his poetry was published. By 1903, George Russell could declare: “Colum will be our principal literary figure in ten years.” American benefactor Thomas Kelly gave him a grant for five years which enabled him to give up his job and devote himself to studying and writing.
In 1912 Colum married Mary (known as Molly) Maguire in 1912 and they lived in Donnybrook for a while before moving to America in 1914. They spent time in Europe in the 1920s before moving to Hawaii where Colum wrote books on Hawaiian folklore and legends. They spent most of the 1930s in France and arrived back in New York in 1939. After his wife’s death in 1957, Colum continued lecturing, writing, and editing volumes of poetry until the late 1960s. In 1963 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was buried in Sutton, Co. Dublin.
Colum and Joyce met for the first time in 1901 or 1902. Joyce seemed to be jealous of the attention Colum was receiving at the time, and he dismissed as “rotten from the foundation up” a play of Colum’s that the National Theatre Society was producing. Nonetheless, they remained friends and met during Joyce’s return visits to Dublin. Colum even accompanied Joyce on his visits to Maunsel & Co. in 1912 in connection with the publication of Dubliners.
In 1919, the Colums were instrumental in getting Scofield Thayer to give Joyce a grant of $700 when Joyce was desperate for money, and the Colums and Joyces saw a lot of each other in France in the 1920s-30s. The Colums stood for Stephen Joyce when he was secretly baptised against Joyce’s wishes, and Joyce enlisted Colum’s help with obtaining Irish residence for a refugee from Nazi Germany.
Both Padraic and Mary Colum wrote numerous articles about Joyce’s work. Writing about Exiles in 1918, Colum said that Bertha was “the first notable woman character” Joyce had created, though he also claimed that “Exiles would make it appear that narrative is [Joyce’s] peculiar domain.” Reviewing Finnegans Wake in the New York Times in 1939, Colum admitted that “a certain perplexity cannot wholly be removed from a reading of it…” but he added: “We have novels that give us greatly a three-dimensional world: here is a narrative that gives a new dimension.” This was among Joyce’s favourite reviews of the Wake.
In the 1960s, Colum wrote a Noh play, Monasterboice, about Joyce’s search for identity, and he was active in the New York James Joyce Society. The Colums’ book, Our Friend James Joyce, was published in New York in 1958.
Bowen, Zack: Padraic Colum – A Biographical-Critical Introduction, with a Preface by Harry T Moore, Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970.
Colum, Mary and Padraic: Our Friend James Joyce, London: Victor Gollancz, 1959.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.