From the Abbey to the World of Children’s Literature: Padraic Colum’s, The Second Shepherds’ Play

Author: James P. Sullivan (Saginaw Valley State University)

“I had to condense, expand, heighten, subdue, rearrange—in a word I had to retell them”:[1] so Padraic Colum, a leading playwright in the early days of Dublin’s Abbey Theater, described his technique for transforming scattered fragments of Pacific island folk tales into a multivolume literary collection published in 1924, The Legends of Hawaii.[2] It was not the first time he had drawn upon this method. A decade earlier the dramatist had employed it when he inscribed an Irish English adaptation of one of the medieval theater’s jewels, the Wakefield cycle’s The Second Shepherds’ Play. Little did he realize that with his “condensing” and “rearranging,” he was taking the first steps along a literary path that was to sustain him for the rest of his career, that of an author of children’s literature. A transcription of the holograph containing Colum’s adaptation is presented here for the first time.

Composed during the first half of the fifteenth century, The Second Shepherds’ Play has long been considered the first dramatic comedy in the English language. It’s one of thirteen works that make up the Towneley, or Wakefield, Mysteries, a series of plays thought to have been performed by the local guilds of Wakefield, in southern Yorkshire. It was written in a regional vernacular and noted for exploiting dialect difference, as a brief flourish of Southern dialect is injected into an otherwise Northern idiom for comic effect.[3] Its scenes, too, are among the earliest in the theatrical tradition to contain, “a color and intensity […] taken right out of the common life of the lower English folk.”[4] Colum’s adaptation retains these scenes of rural life and reference as well as the vernacular features of the original. But it does so with a significant difference. Other twentieth-century versions of the Wakefield Mystery have modernized its language, moving it away from a localized regional variety toward a more generalized written standard. Colum’s, however, renders the dialogue into a lilting form of Irish English—that is, from one dialect to another, from one rural geographic variety to another, from Northern to Irish English. Among modernizations, it is unique.

The particulars of the playwright’s reworking are sketchy. During an interview in 1969, he spoke of the initial impetus coming from William Butler Yeats who, according to his recollection, suggested he prepare a version for the Abbey audience.[5] Colum offered no further elaboration. A few clues, however—enough at least to reconstruct a likely scenario—are provided by some of the circumstances surrounding Yeats’s request.

A decade earlier in 1902, Douglas Hyde, a key figure of the Gaelic Revival, had composed An Naomh ar Iarraidh (The Lost Saint), a contemporary miracle play drawn from the Irish manuscript tradition. Within a few months, this time with the medieval English mystery play as his inspiration, he wrote Dráma Breithe Chríosta (The Nativity Play). Its script appeared in the Weekly Freeman, a Dublin newspaper, appropriately enough at Christmastide, accompanied by Augusta Gregory’s Irish English version. Hyde’s plays were often quickly inscribed and formulaic: a simple setting and a small number of characters. As such they proved “admirably suited for performance by children,” and some were apparently arranged so that groups of youngsters could appear on stage.[6] His nativity script, however, managed to draw the clerical establishment’s ire. As a result, even though composed in 1902, the play was not produced until January of 1911. Despite the decade delay, its performance, like that of its predecessor, “charmed both reviewers and audiences.”[7]

The year 1911 marked a transition period for the Abbey. During the winter, the main body of players was preparing to debut the fall season in America. In their absence, a second Abbey company was created under Nugent Monck, a director committed to reviving medieval English drama. The theater had recently been struggling to draw the Dublin audience, to rekindle the enthusiasm it had generated earlier on. With the success of Hyde’s Nativity Play in January, coupled with the direction then afforded by Monck’s arrival later in the year, Yeats may have been preparing a way to revitalize the Abbey’s season. Together the two events could have come together to induce Colum to convert another nativity play at Christmas, this time the fifteenth-century The Second Shepherds’ Play.[8]       

Monck had come to Dublin not only to direct but also to establish a new drama school at the Abbey. The theater announced in September 1911 that “classes for dramatic training”[9]—namely, lessons in elocution, gesture, acting, rehearsing, and singing designed for medieval productions—were to be scheduled from October 10th until December 19th. Although their program was not yet complete, students from the school were the first to perform Colum’s The Second Shepherds’ Play: it premiered on the evening of November 23rd, coupled with Monck’s well-publicized lecture, “The Rise of the Mystery Plays,” introducing Dublin theatergoers to the medieval performance tradition. The arrangement proved apt. The following day, a review in the Irish Independent praised the actors, “all of whom have reached a high level, and whose performance reflects the greatest credit on the school and its able director.”[10] The new version ran again on November 24th and 25th, and was included in the January 1912 program “as a special attraction.”[11] There it played alongside Hyde’s Nativity Play, itself “much appreciated.”[12] Colum’s refashioning was then chosen to open the Abbey’s next season in October 1912, having “proved to be the most dramatic and interesting of all the Mystery Plays produced last year.”[13]

It is not unlikely that after witnessing the success of Hyde’s unsophisticated Nativity at the beginning of the year, Colum was not inclined to render the full complexity of the original but rather a much-reduced edition. As a comparison of the two attests, the “condensing” and “rearranging” he would speak of later in regards to Legends of Hawaii were much in evidence. Given the Wakefield play’s complicated poetics, Colum’s adaptation required skill and delicacy. A mere dialect rendering would not be enough. Irish writers, then as now, were reluctant to portray characters whose speech could be labeled “stage Irish.”[14] More would be required.

Of all the Abbey playwrights, Colum may have been selected to fashion the Northern dialogue into a fitting Irish English vernacular because of his likely success in doing so. A few years earlier, his play The Land (1905) had become the first Abbey production with broad appeal, and it was so ranked in no small part because of its linguistic similitude:

Colum’s dialect is admirable. It lives, which is everything. It is strong, colored, subtle, and early rises into lyricism. […] No play yet produced in the Abbey Theatre has so gripped and held captive an audience. […] Mr. Colum has caught up his play out of the mid-current of actual Irish life.[15]

In a New Yorker interview a decade before his death, the author himself described his vernacular advantage over other Abbey dramatists:

In those days sixty years ago […] it was the fashion to be writing stories and plays in the country speech. Yeats, Lady Gregory, Synge, and all were doing it, but the truth of the matter is that I was the only one of the lot that knew what the real country speech sounded like.[16]

When Yeats approached the playwright to adapt the fifteenth-century mystery play, this was probably the capacity that he was relying upon. He was not likely to be disappointed.[17]

The reworking follows the main order of the original, but as noted with extensive simplification. The lengthy and rigid Middle English poetic form was replaced by a shortened but highly alliterative Irish English prose. It also contains a significantly reduced number of scenes and lines, the latter being abridged by about two-thirds. Of those that have been retained, a few are repeated almost verbatim from the original text: “Bot we must drynk as we brew,” appears (initially) as “But then we must drink as we brew”; “hys noyse was brokyn,” as “his nose was broken,” and so on. However, the vast majority have been skillfully attuned to Irish English colloquialisms. Some are unique, like turning a line with Christological salience prefacing a lament about marriage partners, “By hym that dyed for vs all,” into a secular exclamation, “By the pigs!” Most are turned into familiar poetic markers of Irish English: “a bit and sup” (greim agus bolgam); “Go out again, you” (calques); “the thing that is in it” (prepositional verbs), and the like.

Clearly, the characters’ banter was intended to be the play’s strong point. Perhaps as a result, the simplification of its plot could be passed over—the lilt of the dialogue and not the intricacies of the action could be expected to lift the audience and carry them along on a light poetic breeze.

Colum’s radical attenuation derives, no doubt, from a variety of factors. One, perhaps the most obvious, is that it followed in the wake of Hyde’s Nativity Play, whose own simplified structure may have been perceived as underlying its popular success. As such, his decision to follow the same format could have been, in part, an effort to revive theater’s fading appeal to the Dublin audience. Two other factors, more subtle, can be drawn from a close study of the manuscript. The first is its omission of a shepherd’s scatological response to the thief’s feigning of a prestigious Southern dialect: “take outt that sothern toothe, and sett in a torde!” (“Take out that southern tooth and set it in a turd!”) The second is its revision of the phrase, “we must drink as we brew,” cited earlier. In Colum’s autograph the words “drink” and “brew,” both of which appear in the medieval text, have been lined out, and the terms “bake” and “eat,” respectively, have been inscribed to replace them, yielding “we must eat as we bake.”

All three of these changes to the original—the radical simplification of the plot, the omission of “torde,” and the revision of “drink/brew” into “bake/eat”—suggest that as he inscribed his version of The Second Shepherds’ Play, the playwright may have had a child audience in mind. If he did, these are the sort of changes that would appear prudent; that is, he would need to take care to present material suitable for the young. Convoluted lengthy plots, scatological terms, and age-inappropriate metaphors—these would not be proper fare. This is, of course, speculative. Yet, it finds support in the following two points. First, recent scholarship has shown that from the last half of the nineteenth century and extending well into the opening decade of the twentieth, Irish children emerged as an ever-expanding audience for literary publications, both in Irish[18] and in English.[19] That an Abbey playwright near the height of his powers could prepare material aimed at a young audience would thus not be all that unusual. And second, within two years of his adaptation, Colum composed A Boy in Éirinn, a lengthy children’s story which went through six editions and an Irish translation. Then, after his emigration to America in 1914, a purview of his writing attests a dominant, though not exclusive, concern with young people’s literature. It began with a series of stories written for the children’s column of the New York Sunday Tribune, and solidified in 1916 with publication of his first collection of children’s tales, The King of Ireland’s Son, published in both New York and London, along with translations into Irish and German.[20]

A recent study of his literary output—one appearing on the centennial of his Second Shepherds’ inscription—concurs that after 1911 his main occupation was as an author of children’s literature. Before that date, he had produced almost without exception plays, poems, and a few sketches, but after that date, the vast majority of his publications were reworkings of stories that in their original form were far more lengthy and far more complex. Long after his prudent adaptation of the Wakefield Mystery, Colum continued a practice preeminent in it; namely, keeping the plots of his stories and the dynamics of his language, even when formal, within the reach of a youthful audience.[21]

If this analysis is correct, the playwright’s new career began while still at the Abbey Theater. In redacting Wakefield’s The Second Shepherds’ Play, he developed his new method: carving literature from works as complex as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and as fragmented as Irish mythology and Hawaiian folk tales, by condensing, expanding, heightening, subduing, and rearranging—in short, by retelling them for young readers. The 1911 autograph transcribed here, then, marks a milestone in Colum’s literary vocation, his progression from an Irish Renaissance poet and playwright to an author of literature composed for the world of children.


Note on the Manuscript

There is little doubt that the autograph housed in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at The New York Public Library, derives from the Abbey production of November 1911. It is written in ink on thirteen faded sheets of heavy-stock ivory-colored composition paper, each of which displays, under light, a triple watermark: the phrase “Court Royal” in double-outline, ten vertical rib or wire lines, and a large rose insignia surrounded by an array of shamrocks.[22]

The play itself has escaped all critical comment, and there appears to be no record its being published. The bibliographies of the Colum’s work give no indication of its existence even as a manuscript.[23] Perhaps it has been overlooked because much of the material associated with the Abbey Theater was destroyed in the fire of 1951. At least one of his plays disappeared in that blaze.[24] Or perhaps because the myriad outlets in which he published his vast number of texts have made uncovering the breadth and depth of his corpus unusually complex.

This is a reader’s edition in that the usual accidentals like false starts, missing punctuation, and so on have been emended for ease of reading. However, a few of the playwright’s revisions have been so marked. These include occasional material that was simply deleted outright. Also included are lines that were lined out only to reappear nearby and words that were altered. The former lines witness the author’s effort to enhance his line’s narrative effectiveness; the latter his search for “le mot juste.” Occasionally, role assignments were revised to clarify the dialogue. For example, in the opening scene, as the 1st and 2nd shepherd discuss the whereabouts of the 3rd who has yet to arrive on stage, the line, “He’s late coming,” was initially given to the tardy 3rd. Colum lined out “3rd” and replaced it with “1st.” All these, together with a handful of Irish English spellings, are judged rare enough not to interfere with the reading, but important enough to give a visceral feel for the playwright’s composing process. To review them is to catch his text on the fly, as it happens, before it loses its tentative, fluid quality.[25]


The play below is reproduced with generous permission of the Estate of Padraic Colum. The author and the editors wish to thank especially Clíona Ní Shúilleanáin and Huw Shúilleanáin for their support.


The Wakefield Second Nativity Play

Padraic Colum

1st Shepherd: Boys O boys, this season is very severe! I’m in dread to stand on my feet, for my two legs might break under me, they’re that stiff with the cold. And my hands are perished too! Well, them that’s born to it know the hardship! We’re abroad east and west, day and dark, without rest or comfort, and for all our striving we’re near hard out of the door with poverty, for them that are above us keeping us doing this turn for them and that turn for them, and our fields, little and all as they are, are as fallow as the mud floor at home. “Give us a day’s work here,” says the landlord, “Bring ^Send^ a yoke and a horse there,” says the landlord, agent and if we refused denied either of them we would be upon ^between^ the ^mill^ stones. It would be a miracle if we could thrive at all. I do be wondering when I see the people dressed for I would’nt [sic] know when Sundays or holidays come round, I’m that bent to the hardship.

2nd Shepherd: The man that’s married is worse off. He’s in shackles in earnest. “As sharp as a thistle, as rough as a briar.” Could you tell me the meaning of that riddle, honest man? It means a wife. By the pigs! I wish I had run until I had lost my woman.

1st Shepherd: Did you see the gosson?[26]

2nd Shepherd: I saw him when I was coming here.

3rd1st Shepherd: He’s late coming.

2nd Shepherd: He’ll have a good lie to tell us, I’ll enjoye [sic]. (3rd Shepherd enters)

3rd Shepherd: God save you, masters. Will there be a bit and a sup going soon, do ye think?

2nd Shepherd: High hanging to you! You’re thinking of your gut early in the night. But you’ll sup sorrow first.

3rd Shepherd: The bit to eat is always late in coming to us the servant boys. He eats his bread dry. He sweats and strives while his masters take their ease. His hire comes to him late and there’s a good hole made in it if he makes a slip at all.

1st Shepherd: Wait until bye and bye! You came late but when it’s ready you’ll get your supper with the rest of us.

3rd Shepherd: I’ll promise that the food won’t be idle on my stomach. There’s a wind that would blow the world out. Storm and wind and rain! Since Noah there was never such floods. If the prophesies [sic] don’t come to pass now, they’ll never come to pass. We that are watching at night see strange sights.

2nd Shepherd: Stop talking or I’ll make you afraid. Where are our sheep?

3rd Shepherd: In good pasture. I left them there this morning.

2nd Shepherd: Men strike up a song.

1st Shepherd: Ay, sing, the night is long and a ballad would pass away the time.

3rd Shepherd (sings):        I’d spread my cloak for you, young lad

                                                Were it only the breadth of a farthen [sic],

                                                And if you’re [sic] mind was a good as your word

                                                In truth it’s you I’d rather!

                                                In dread of any jealousy

                                                And before we go any further

                                                Hoist me up to the top of the hill

                                                And show me Carricknibauna.[27]

(Mac enters with a cloak about him)

Mac: O God Almighty I wish I was out of this world! There’s no wife and childre [sic] crying in Heaven I hear.

1st Shepherd: Who’s that that pipes so poor?

Mac: I’m a man going on a journey.

2nd Shepherd: It’s Mac I declare. Come here, Mac, and tell us your news.

3rd Shepherd: It’s Mac, is it? Then any one [sic] that wants to keep his own had better look after it.

Mac: Be civil-spoken to me. I’m a man sent on a journey by a great gentlemen I tell you.

1st Shepherd: Mac, why do you carry on like that?

Mac: Out of my way.

3rd Shepherd: We know you Mac.

Mac: If I make a complaint I’ll get every one of you gaol.

1st Shepherd: Mac, are you telling the truth?

2nd Shepherd: It’s a stroke of a crook I’d give him. Look at the devil in his eye.

Mac: I know you now. You’re good companions. God save the three of you.

1st 2nd Shepherd: You have a name for something Mac. If you travel so late people will say that you’re on for stealing a sheep.

Mac: My stomach is not well! Your hand would cover all I’ve eaten for the last month. I’m sick and sore if I sit down. I must be moving.

1st Shepherd: And how’s your wife, Mac?

Mac: She’s by the fire, poor enough, amongst a houseful of children.

1st Shepherd: Stay here and warm yourself, Mac.

2nd Shepherd: Do you know that I’d sleep on a furze bush?[28] Before anyone in the parish I was out of my sleep this morning.

1st Shepherd: I’ll sleep if I was to lose fourpence [sic] by it. I’m harassed with walking the moors. Let you watch.

2nd Shepherd: I must lie down too. I tell you that a harrow under me would’nt [sic] hurt me. (To 3rd Shepherd.) Let you keep the watch.

1st ^3rd^ Shepherd: I’m perished. I’ll sit by the fire. Come here, Mac. I’m as good a man’s son as any of them. I’ll lie down too. Come here, Mac and lie between us. (The Three Shepherds sleep)

Mac: A man that’s in want might take something now. He might go into the fold there and steal a sheep. But there’s no use in being too bold about it. I’ll work a spell on them first. (He stands over the sleeping shepherds)

                        Let there be round you a circle, as round as the moon.

                        Till I have done what I want, till it be noon.

                        Let you lie stone-still, till it be done.

                        Over your heads my hands I lift.

                        Let go your eyes, and your sight I shift.

                                    Manus tuas commendo          

                                    Pontio Pilato.[29]                                              

Now they’re in slumber dead-fast asleep. I was never a shepherd but I’ll learn the trade. (He goes to the fold) I’m obliged to you for drawing near. You take our house out of sorrow tonight.

(He steals a sheep and goes to his door)

Mac: Gill, are you in? Get us a light.

Gill: Who’s there at this hour?

Mac: It’s myself, Gill. I’ve brought something to you.

Gill: You’ll hang for this, Mac.

Mac: Go away! When I’m put to it I can get more than a man that sweats all day.

Gill: O God help us if you are to hang for this.

Mac: How well I wasn’t hanged before this.

Gill: Well as often as the pitcher goes to the well it gets broke at last.

Mac: This twelve month I had’nt [sic] such a taste for mutton.

Gill: But if you kill it now they’ll hear the sheep bleat

Mac: Ay, and then I might be caught. Bar up the door.

Gill: I will in truth for they’ll come in by the back. Mac, here’s a plan. We’ll hide the sheep in the cradle.

Mac: Right, good woman. And I’ll say that you were up all night with a child sick.

Gill: (Putting sheep in cradle.) It’s a right good plan. A woman’s advice helps in the end. I don’t care who spies now. Go out again, you.

Mac: Ay, and I’ll lie down beside them as if I had no hand carrying off their sheep. (He goes back to the field)

1st Shepherd: My foot’s asleep.

2nd Shepherd: Lord I’ve slept well. I feel as light as the leaf on the tree.

3rd Shepherd: My head is split and my heart is threashing [sic] my ribs weken [sic] up.[30] We were four. Do ye see Mac? I dreamt that he appeared in a wolf’s skin.

2nd Shepherd: Ay and I dreamt that he had trapped a fat sheep on us.

1st Shepherd: The ^Your^ dream^s^ makes you wild. Here is Mac the whole time. Rise up Mac. The sun is splitting the stones.

Mac: Resurret a mortrius! Judas carnas dominus.[31] Catch hold of my hand. I can’t stand up. My neck has lain wrong. I dreamt that there was another youngster at our house since the cock crew. God help me that has many children and little earning. I must go home, but watch me now so that I won’t have the name of stealing anything on you.

3rd Shepherd: I hope we have the whole of our flock.

1st Shepherd: I’ll go before you to the pasture.

2nd Shepherd: Where will we meet?

1st Shepherd: At the crooked thorn![32]

Mac (At his own door): Open the door! How long am I to stand here?

Gill: Who’s making that stir?

Mac: Gill, it’s Mac.

Gill: I’m not let sit or work long. But how did you leave the shepherds, Mac?

Mac: This was the word they said when I was turning my back on them--that they were going to look at what they had, to see if all their sheep was in the flock. However the game goes they’ll blame me. They’ll be on top of us soon We’ll have them on the floor soon, so let you do what we agreed.

Gill: I’ll wrap it up in the cradle. Come and help me.

Mac: That I will.

Gill: And you rock the cradle and sing a lullaby. I’ll lie by the wall and cry to the Blessed Virgin and if we don’t baffle them never trust me again.

3rd Shepherd: There’s no mistake about it. A sheep is stolen.

2nd Shepherd: And if you’ll take my word for it either Mac or Gill were by when that sheep was stolen.

1st Shepherd: Stop talking and don’t wrong the man. Were'nt [sic] ye all by when he left us this morning.

2nd Shepherd: Say what you like. Mac did the deed. That’s my opinion.

3rd Shepherd: That I may never eat a bit of the world’s bread if I don’t believe you.

(Mac is singing the lullaby)

2nd Shepherd: Look at the game they’re up to? One rocking the cradle and singing and the other lying by the wall and groaning.

3rd Shepherd: Mac, open the door.

Mac: Who’s there? Tell me that first?

2nd Shepherd: Open.

Mac: Will ye not speak soft over a sick woman’s head? (He opens the door.) God save ye. Come in and I’ll put down a fire for you. My wife’s not well. God knows we had enough children in the house. But then we must drink ^eat^ as we brew ^bake^. Come in and I’ll put down a fire for you.

2nd Shepherd: We’ll neither sit nor talk.

Mac: Is there anything on you that’s not good.

3rd Shepherd: There is in truth. Our good sheep that’s stolen.

Mac: Stolen did you say? A sheep stolen! Well, if I was there I’d be blamed for something.

2nd Shepherd: Some people think that you were there.

1st Shepherd: Ay, Mac. Either you or your good woman here.

Mac: Come in and rip up the house then. My wife wasn’t up since she was laid down there. That’s the first meal I had today. If you find sheep, goat or cow here I’ll let you put me under a harrow.

Gill: Put thieves from my house!

Mac: Did you hear how she carries on. Your heart would melt if you were listening to her groans.

Gill: I pray to God that if ever I wronged you, ^I pray to God^ that I may eat the child that lies here in the cradle.

Mac: Easy, woman, easy. You cut through my heart. The brain will jump off me with my poor woman’s complaints. Easy, easy, agradh[33] ^Gill^ you’ll split my heart with your moaning.

2nd Shepherd: Our sheep is stolen and it’s our business to look about it.

3rd Shepherd: Our labour’s in vain. We may’s[sic] well go back. Hard or soft, salt or fresh, there’s no flesh in the house except the child in the cradle.

Gill: God save my child from the hands and the eyes of ill wishers.

1st Shepherd: We’ve missed the mark. Our respects to you ma’am, and our blessing on what’s in the cradle. Is the child a boy?

Mac: A boy, I tell you, and a lord would be proud to have for his son. When he wakens up he laughs in a way that would delight you.

3rd Shepherd: That his steps may be happy. Who stood for the child, Mac?

Mac: Parkin & Gibbon Waller and John Horne.[34]

2nd Shepherd: You should have asked one of us, Mac. We’re friends and neighbors you know.

Mac: Well, I’m glad we’re not in anyway beholden to your friendship. Good-bye to ye. We won’t be lonesome when you’re gone.

1st Shepherd: Did you leave the child anything?

3rd 2nd Shepherd : It never came into my mind to put as much as a farthen [sic] in its hand.

1st Shepherd: Wait for me. I’ll leave sixpence in the cradle. (He goes back into the cottage) Mac, don’t take it bad that I’ve come back.

Mac: I take it bad enough. You brought an ill mind into my house.

1st Shepherd: Mac, with your leave, I’ll leave something with the child.

Mac: No, go away, the child is sleeping.

1st Shepherd: No, he’s looking out at us.

Mac: If you waken him he’ll never stop crying.

1st Shepherd: Give me leave to look at him. What the devil is this? The child has a snout on him.

3rd Shepherd: He’s marked amiss, God between us and harm.

2nd Shepherd: What’s ill-spun comes out badly. In truth, he’s like our sheep.

3rd Shepherd: Do ye see how they swaddled his four feet in the middle. I never saw in a cradle a lad with horns.

Gill: He’s as good a child as ever sat on a woman’s knee.

Mac: Only his nose was broken. And it was told to us that the child was a changling [sic].

1st Shepherd: This is false work. Let your weapons men.

Gill: The child was taken ^changed^ by the fairies. I saw it done myself as I was sitting there by the fire and the clock striking twelve.

Mac: If I done any trespass you may strike me down.

1st Shepherd: We’ll strike you Mac and lay you for dead. Let your weapons men. (They attack Mac)           

(Enter an Angel)

Angel: O hired men, be gentle with each other, for God is your friend, and to-night is born a child that will free Adam’s race.

Gill: Where is the child?

Angel: In Bethlehem [sic], between two beasts. I bid ye go there.

                        Hail, comely and clean, hail young child

                        That is born this night of a maiden mild

                        Hail freely leaf and flower, that all things has wrought

                        Hail, full of favour that made all out of nought.

                        (The Angel passes on)

1st Shepherd: Of God’s son in Heaven he spoke the word.

3rd Shepherd: He spoke of a child that lies in Bethelehem [sic].

1st Shepherd: That star shines up above him. Let us seek him out there.

2nd Shepherd: It’s as true as steel what the prophets have spoken that as poor as we are and as mean as we are we’d be the first to find the savior when he appeared in the world. Come on Mac.



[1] Quoted in Gerald Griffin, The Wild Geese: Portraits of Famous Irish Exiles (London: Jarrolds, n.d.), 182.

[2] Originally published in 1924 in two volumes as At the Gateways of the Day and The Bright Island, and reissued with additional stories as Legends of Hawaii (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937). When the American President Barack Obama visited Ireland in May 2011, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, presented him with a copy of the expanded volume. In accepting it, the President, a Hawaiian native, declared, “[It] just confirms that if you need somebody to do some writing, hire an Irishman; see “‘Uncle Enda’ sends some bedtime reading to the Obama children—but how will his gift measure up?” The Daily Edge, May 23, 2011,

[3] David Mills, “Preliminary Note: The Language of Medieval Drama,” The Revels History of Drama in English, Volume 1: Medieval Drama, ed. A. C. Cawley, et. al. (New York: Methuen, 1983), 75.

[4] John Edwin Wells, A Manuel of the Writings in Middle English: 1050-1400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1923), 559.

[5] Charles Burgess, “A Playwright and His Work,” The Journal of Irish Literature 2.1 (1973): 40-62. See also, Padraic Colum, in interview with Zack Bowen, “Ninety Years in Retrospect, Journal of Irish Literature, 14-34.

[6] Janet Egleson Dunleavy and Gareth W. Dunleavy, Douglas Hyde: A Maker of Modern Ireland (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1991), 223. A review of its premiere characterized the play as having, “a simplicity and distinction which give it a value of its own”; see “Dr. Hyde’s Nativity Play,” Freeman’s Journal, January 6, 1911: 8,

[7] Dunleavy and Dunleavy, Douglas Hyde, 225. Children had performed the Irish version during the summer in Galway; see “Caltra Feis: An Immense Success,” Connacht Tribune, August 19, 1911: 3,

[8] R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life. I: The Apprentice Mage, 1865-1914 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 454-455.

[9] “Dramatic Art Class,” Freeman’s Journal, September 30, 1911: 13,

[10] “Abbey Theatre Pupils,” Irish Independent, November 24, 1911: 6,

[11] “The Abbey Theatre,” Freeman’s Journal, December 30, 1911: 5,

[12] “The Abbey Theatre,” Irish Independent, January 4, 1912: 6,

[13] “The Abbey Theatre,” Freeman’s Journal, October 2, 1912: 5,

[14] Sanford Sternlicht, Padraic Colum (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985), 92-93.

[15] Quoted in Lennox Robertson, Ireland’s Abbey Theatre: A History 1899-1951 (1951; Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press,1968), 38-39.

[16] “Talk of the Town,” New Yorker, June 9, 1962: 25.

[17] Colum’s influence on the representation of Irish English has been critical. His biographer notes, “Never again would stilted stage English appear in realistic drama, purporting to be native speech; see Zack Bowen, Padraic Colum: A Biographical-Critical Introduction (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 33.

[18] See Ríona Nic Congáil, “‘Some of you will curse her’: Women’s Writing During the Irish-Language Revival,” Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 29 (2009): 199-222. n.b.: Hyde’s An Naomh ar Iarraidh was staged in February, two years earlier for the pupils of St. Enda’s, the school founded and run by P.H. Pearse.

[19] Ríona Nic Congáil, “‘Fiction, Amusement, Instruction”: The Irish Fireside Club and the Ideology of the Gaelic League” Eire-Ireland 44.1 & 2 (2009): 91-117; see also Nic Congáil, “Young Ireland and ‘The Nation’: National Children’s Culture in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Eire-Ireland 46.3 & 4 (2011): 37-62.

[20] Zack Bowen, “Padraic Colum,” Dictionary of Irish Literature, ed. Robert Hogan, et. al. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1979), 165-168. See also Alan Denson, “Padraic Colum: An Appreciation with a Check-List of his Publications,” The Dublin Magazine 6.1 (1967): 54.

[21] Aedín Clements, “Padraic Colum, the Horn Book, and the Irish in American Children’s Literature in the Early Twentieth Century,” Young Irelands: Studies in Children’s Literature, ed. Mary Shine Thompson (Dublin, Ireland/Portland, Oregon: Four Courts Press, 2011), 154-163. The author also cites Colum’s numerous young literature accolades, among them Newbery honors. See also Eileán Ní Chuilleanáin, “Folklore and Writing for Children in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Padraic Colum, Patricia Lynch and Ellis Dillon,” Folklore and Modern Irish Writing, ed. Anne Markey and Anne O’Connor (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2014), 113-129.

[22] The Padraic Colum Collection consists of the author’s papers covering the years 1901-1963, mainly correspondence and numerous notebooks containing essays, speeches, sketches, and drafts of his later works, published and unpublished.

[23] See Denson, “Padraic Colum: An Appreciation: 50-64, as well as Denson, “Padraic Colum: Additions to a Check-List of his Publications,” The Dublin Magazine 6.2 (1967): 83-85. See also Ann Murphy, “Appreciation: Pádraic Colum (1881-1972), National Poet,” Erie-Ireland 17.4 (1982): 128-147.

[24] Sanford Sternlicht, “Introduction,” Selected Plays of Padraic Colum, ed. Sanford Sternlicht (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1986), xviii-xix.

[25] n.b. When a lined out form has been replaced by another entered between manuscript lines or in its margin, the replacement form in marked here by carets, namely, ^ ^.

[26] “Gosson” (Irish), meaning “boy, young lad.”

[27] “Carricknabauna” became the title of a dramatic performance that the playwright directed in New York’s Greenwich Village over half-a-century later, in March 1967. It consisted of some forty poems culled from his own scrapbook. The title literally translates as “the permanent village,” which aptly conveys the theme of the later production, an old man’s memorializing of his homeland, as well as the one of 1911, a shepherd wishing to see a better place than he here laments.

[28] “Furze bush”: a thorny, invasive evergreen with small, yellowish flowers.

[29] Roughly, “I commend Pontius Pilate into your hands.” (Underlined in manuscript.) Originally the two Latin lines followed “done” in the third line. Colum lined them out and re-inscribed them here at the end of MAC’s spell.            

[30]Apparently an effort at a phonetic rendering of vernacular “waking” with lowered vowel, as “wekin’.”

[31] Roughly, “Rise from the dead! Judas is lord of the flesh.” (Underlined in manuscript.)

[32] A location, given in the medieval original.

[33] “Agradh” (Irish): a term of endearment meaning “dear one, heart.”

[34] Three characters named in the fifteenth-century original; they also appear elsewhere in the Wakefield cycle.