An Irish poet, novelist, dramatist, biographer, and collector of folklore, Padraic Colum was born on December 8, 1881, in the County Longford workhouse where his father worked. He was the first of eight children. After his father lost his job in 1889, he moved to the United States to participate in the Colorado gold rush. Padraic remained with his mother and siblings in Ireland. Upon the return of his father in 1892, the family moved to Glasthule, outside Dublin, where his father was employed as Assistant Manager at Sandycove railway station.
When Colum's mother died in 1897, the family temporarly split up. Padraic and one brother remained in Dublin while their father and the remaining children returned to Longford. Colum finished school the following year, taking up a clerical position with the Irish Railway Clearing House until 1903. Colum began to write and met a number of the leading Irish authors of the period, including W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. He also joined the Gaelic League and was a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. A regular user of the National Library of Ireland, it was there that he met James Joyce. The two became lifelong friends.
His earliest published poems appeared in The United Irishman, and were eventually collected in his first book, Wild Earth, published in 1907. His play, Broken Sail (1903), was performed by the Irish Literary Theatre. This was followed by several plays staged at the Abbey, one of which, The Land (1905), was one of that theatre's first great public successes. He co-founded the short-lived literary journal The Irish Review, which published work by Yeats, George Moore, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and many other leading Revival figures.
The following year he married Mary Gunning Maguire, who was working at Patrick Pearse's experimental school, St. Enda's, in Rathfarnam, County Dublin. At first the couple lived in the Dublin suburb of Donnybrook, where they held a regular Tuesday literary salon. They then moved to Howth, a small fishing village just to the north of the capital. They emigrated to the United States in 1914.
In America, Colum took up children's writing, publishing a number of story collections, beginning with The King of lreland's Son in 1916. Three of his books for children were awarded retrospective citations for the Newbery Honor. Commissioned in 1922 to retell Hawaiian folklore for children, Padraic published three volumes of his versions of tales from the island. He also began writing novels, including Castle Conquer (1923) and The Flying Swans (1937). The Colums spent the years from 1930 to 1933 in France, where Padraic renewed his friendship with James Joyce.
After their time in France, the couple moved to New York City, where they both taught at Columbia University. A prolific author, Colum published a total of sixty-one books, not including his plays. After Mary's death in 1957, he divided his time between the States and Ireland. He died in Enfield, Connecticut, on January 11, 1972, at the age of ninety. He is buried in St Fintan's Cemetery, near Howth.
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