Padraic Colum in the Burns Library’s Irish Collection

<i>The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes</i> by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker.   Burns Library PR6005.O38 G56 1919 IRISH.

The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker, PR6005.O38 G56 1919 Irish.

The Burns Library’s Irish Collection contains a wide variety of wonderful and fascinating books.  One day, having given in to the temptation to look at some beautiful book covers, I looked at some books by Irish writer Padraic Column. Intrigued by the graphics on the covers of the books, I was not prepared for the stunning illustrations inside!

Padraic Colum, born December 8, 1881 was an Irish poet, playwright and novelist.  Born in County Longford in a poor Catholic family, he spent much time in his youth in Longford and County Cavan.  He joined the Gaelic League and became a champion for the nationalist cause.  Arthur Griffith who founded and ran the United Irishman newspaper became a patron to Colum and published early poems in his newspaper.

<i> The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said</i> by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker.  Burns Library PR6005.O38 B69 1918 IRISH.

The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker, PR6005.O38 B69 1918 Irish.

It was in the early 1900’s that Colum became associated with famous figures of the Irish Literary revival; Williams Butler Yeats, George William Russell (AE), and James Joyce.  He began to write plays and his second play, The Land, opened at the Abbey Theatre in 1905 with great success.  After a quarrel with others in the Abbey circle, Colum left the Abbey Theatre Company.  Colum’s last play, Thomas Muskerry, closed in 1910.

After his falling out with the Abbey Theatre Company, Colum returned to writing poetry.  Remarkable for its rich, clear and lyrical nature, his verse echoes early Irish poetry.  Speakers in the collection, Wild Earth, represent people in rural Ireland. One poem, “She Moved through the Fair,” is noted as a successful recreation of a folk song and is even today played and sung in Ireland and the United States.  A YouTube search for this poem retrieves clips from singers that cross ages, geographic locations, and styles.

<i>The King of Ireland's Son</i> by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogány.  Burns Library PR6005.O38 K54 1926 IRISH.

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogány, PR6005.O38 K54 1926 Irish.

In 1914 Colum left Ireland and moved to the United States where he remained for most of his life. He produced more dramatic works, poetry collections, and novels, some for children.  His  books for children are most interesting and enjoyable, both the textual content  and the illustrations.  In fact, it was a selection of children’s books which I first noticed. Several of the illustrators with whom Colum collaborated were immigrants and came from revolutionary upheaval in homelands such as Russia and Hungary.  One famous illustrator, however, was the brother of William Butler YeatsJack Yeats illustrated Colum’s short story collection, The Big Tree of Bunlahy.

Even though he settled in the United States, much of Colum’s writing for children harkens back to the traditions with which he was nurtured as a young boy.  In fact, the dedication of The Big Tree reveals Colum’s respect for those who shared his native cultural traditions, such as songs, stories and folklore:

“To my many aunts

<i>The Big Tree of Bunlahy</i> by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats.  Burns Library PR6005.O38 B5 1933 IRISH.

The Big Tree of Bunlahy by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats,  PR6005.O38 B5 1933 Irish.

And notably to
Josephine, Rose, Margaret, Mary
But especially to the one whose house neighboured The Big Tree,

And at whose hearth I heard such wise and witty discourse,
My Aunt Anne.”

Read some of Colum’s books, click on the titles below for more information from the BC Libraries online catalog, also known as Holmes:

The Big Tree of Bunlahy : Stories of My Own Countryside by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats.

The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willie Pogány.

The Boy Who Knew What the Birds Said by Padraic Colum and Dugald Stewart Walker.

The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by Padraic Colum and Dugald Stewart Walker.

  • Kathleen Williams, Irish Studies Librarian.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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