Colum was born Patrick Collumb in a County Longford workhouse, where his father worked. He was the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Collumb. When the father lost his job in 1889, he moved to the United States to participate in the Colorado gold rush. Padraic and his mother and siblings remained in Ireland. When the father returned in 1892, the family moved toGlasthule, near Dublin, where his father was employed as Assistant Manager at Sandycove and Glasthule railway station. His son attended the local national school.
When Susan Collumb died in 1897, the family was temporarily split up. Padraic (as he would be known) and one brother remained in Dublin, while their father and remaining children moved back to Longford. Colum finished school the following year and at the age of seventeen, he passed an exam for and was awarded a clerkship in the Irish Railway Clearing House. He stayed in this job until 1903.
During this period, Colum started to write and met a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ. He also joined the Gaelic League and was a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He became a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he met James Joyce and the two became lifelong friends. During the riots caused by the Abbey Theatre’s production of The Playboy of the Western World, Colum, with Arthur Griffith, was the leader of those inciting the protests, which, as he later remarked, cost him his friendship with Yeats.
An Old Woman of the Roads
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods against the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!
To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!
I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!
Och! but I’m weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there’s never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house – a house of my own
Out of the wind’s and the rain’s way.