Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen is a poet, playwright, novelist and short fiction writer. His work has been published widely and he is a regular broadcast contributor to RTE.

Leo’s publications include the novel Let’s Twist Again and a collection of short stories Clocking 90 on the Road to Cloughjordan, both from the Blackstaff Press. His work has appeared in the Sunday Independent and in the New Irish Writing page of the Irish Press, as well as in numerous literary magazines and anthologies in Ireland, the UK, and Canada. His short stories have been broadcast on BBC4, BBC World Service and Lyric FM, and he has recorded over a hundred pieces for Sunday Miscellany, including live broadcasts at the National Concert Hall and the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire.

Leo has been awarded bursaries by the Irish Arts Council and the Arts Office Dun Laoghaire and was the recipient of a scholarship to Australia in 2003. Twice a prizewinner at the Allingham Festival, he also wrote a  prizewinning play for the Dunlavin Theatre Festival. He won the Ireland & UK section of the David Wong Pen International Short Story Competition in 2003 and was nominated for a Hennessy Award in 1986.

He has participated in the Peregrine Readings series for the Irish Writers Centre and has read at many other venues including the Bealtaine Festival, Portlaoise; the Winding Stair Bookshop, Dublin; the Force 12 Festival, Belmullet; the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea; the National Arts Centre & American-Irish Historical Society, New York; the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Sydney and Blue Mountains, and as writer-in-residence, Byron Bay, New South Wales. He has chaired discussions of his work at the Irish Writers Centre Dublin; Belfast; New York; Sydney and Katoomba (NSW).

Leo has facilitated short story workshops at the Listowel Writers’ Week (2006, 2007) and at Seanchaí Writers’ Centre, Listowel (2008, 2010). He has also facilitated workshops at the INK festival (National Writers’ Workshop festival), Longford;  Anam Cara, Co Cork; and at the Dalkey Creates festival and while on travelling scholarships in New York, in Byron Bay (NSW) and Swansea. He gives workshops on an ongoing basis in the Dun Laoghaire Libraries’ network: Lexicon, Blackrock, Dalkey, Stillorgan.

He has participated in the Writer in Schools & the Community programme throughout the country and written, staged and directed numerous children’s plays.

Leo is currently working on a novel and a memoir.

His prose piece “How do towns change?” was broadcast on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany on August 20th, 2017. You can read it below:


How do towns change?

“Do not forsake me oh my darling.” These were the words of a song that drifted through the kitchen window and out onto the back yard of my father’s Hotel. The maids in the kitchen played the radio all day long. The men worked in the yard. Me and my cowpoke friend, Jimmy Kelly, we spotted Injuns out there.  When racing commentaries rang out, the men crouched outside the window shouting and I could smell their excitement. I could smell gravy from the kitchen, suet from the butcher’s – it also backed onto the yard, beer from the bottling shed, Moonshine from the empty John Power bottles dumped outside the bar. I knew every smell, taste, shout.

Even from the beginning I did, when, as a baby in the pram parked in the yard, I saw shafts of sun and heard tweets of yard birds – blue-tits and sparrows – that old Annie from Bank Street fed every day with crumbs thrown from the hotel balcony. I didn’t of course know Annie at the beginning, just the warbling of the birds. I didn’t know the vroom-vroom sound was my father’s car leaving the yard or the squeak was the rusty handle turning the edging stone to sharpen butcher’s knives. In backyards life begins.

The lower part of the yard was where the barn stood, filled with straw and turf and dogs and cats. A sheepdog named Sneem lived there; he came from Kerry, was the same colour as a sod of turf and looked like one too until you tried to lift him and then he had a tongue and teeth and you felt the electricity of hair and tail and danger against your bare legs as he bolted past you. The other dog was a terrier named Rossy, a mean critter who also came from Kerry, so that I thought all dogs came from Kerry. The enormous horses were down there too, in the stonework stables about the perimeter of the yard. My mother’s bay mare named Mayo was one. My mother groomed Mayo with her curry comb and sang, ‘let him go let him tarry.’

At the far end of the yard was the garage for our hearse and the loft above it where Taylor with the top-hat made coffins for Boot Hill. A smell of wood-shavings came from there. A quiet place, where Taylor planed his coffins and Paddy Barry polished his hearse and sang Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff and cowpokes Jimmy Kelly and I sometimes got into the coffins for Taylor and lay side by side so that Taylor could see if they’d accommodate the fattest man or woman that might die in our town. The slaughter house was down there too. Bullocks with heads going over and back as though they were lost were driven down the yard, past the horses and dogs. A bull ring was clamped in their nostrils. The rope from the bull ring went through a ring in the ground and the men pulled. And when the bullock was inched along until his nose tipped the ground and his tongue was coming out to lick it the gun was put to his head and the next thing he collapsed in a huddle and the chains hoisted him up and he was skinned and the knife went down through him and out on the floor burst a potpourri that made a map of Europe like in my atlas.  Further again down the yard was the hotel garden with bluebells and potato drills.

Then a day arrived when a new baby came home and was sleeping in the pram in the yard and instead of my mother, who didn’t come home, a nurse who came from Kerry of the Dogs stood shotgun over it and everything changed.

A while after that nine citizens came moseying every evening along the narrow corridor of the part of the hotel where our family lived. They were considerable citizens; I was in my pyjamas and bare feet going to bed, avoiding ten tons of considerable flesh in leather shoes. They had come to change the world. The Committee of Templemore Livestock Mart, they decided during powwows in our small nursery that our yard would be the place where the change in world affairs would happen: a cattle-mart it would be, the second in Munster.

One day I’d saunter down the yard and the slaughter house would be gone. Another day – where were Taylor and Barry and the coffins? Alarming! The turf shed blew away in the wind like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz:  Sneem, Rossy, sods of turf, garden bluebells and planks for coffins carried off in a prairie twister.

But up rose the cattle mart, cattle-pens made from wild-west railway-sleepers; buyers arrived, sellers drove herds in from faraway Wyoming and Upperchurch; stables where horses had whinnied became a cattle-stick totin’ saloon – in which I drank lemonade with the drivers of the cattle-truck highways who drank moonshine. Christy the drover hunted cattle round the sales ring with his cattle-stick; I mimicked his movement. ‘How, how’, he said.

Oh how indeed. How do towns change? One way is a town hotelier, cum lots-of-other-occupations also, thinks up something big so as not to feel forsaken oh my darling. He rounds up a posse of nine honchos; a cattle-mart is built, the second in Munster and the best. It is 1957. And then they, father and children, roll the wagon, leave Dodge City and light out for the Cherokee Injun territory around Killenaule. Where there will be plenty more powwows, you bet.

I did return to Dodge City on rare occasions, but once they’d knocked a hole half the side of Bank Street to facilitate the double-decker cattle trucks, the yard spilled out through it like that bullock’s earthly-treasure innards and was never mine again except in memory. It now belonged to Dodge City, Templemore.

Leo Cullen