Markie the Tan – The Poem Inspired by a School Room Prank / Explosion in 1922

The late Maurice Kelliher, NT and historian who provided the back ground to the drama in a school classroom on Limerick Road which inspired the poem in 1922. Photograph courtesy of David A Geaney via Andrew and James Kelliher.
An inset of the poem’s subject, Markie O’Sullivan of Kilbanivane or ‘Markie the Tan’ over a 1991 photograph of the remains of the old school or ‘Master Buckley’s School on the Limerick Road. Caricature of Markie O’Sullivan by Michael Reidy, Knocknagore. School Photograph: John Reidy ©

The construction of this historically anchored poem goes all the way back to a period in early 1922 after the last of the British army left Castleisland and before the Free State soldiers arrived in town and the outbreak of the Civil War later that year.

There was a vacuum in the application of law and order in the period of those few months and members of the local I.R.A. brigade stepped into the breach.

In that brief spell of relative peace, their chief duties were looking after dog licenses, keeping an eye on people without lights on their bicycles and so on.

Inspiration for the Poem

An incident in the boys national school on the Limerick Road at around this time provided all the drama and the spark of inspiration for the iconic Castleisland poem.

This was explained by historian and national school teacher, Maurice Kelliher in an article published in The Kerryman during the summer after his death in February 1982.

The stone from that old school now surrounds Browne’s house at the left hand entrance to St. John’s Park and the school’s nameplate is embedded in the masonry.

The school principal, away back then was the stern Master Buckley.

He was standing with his back to the fire one day when a little explosion of coal and ashes erupted around him.

Bullets – A Collector’s Item

Live bullets were a collector’s item among the young boys at the time. Needless to say the older boys had their own stashes for the more serious business of the era.

A few of the boys in Buckley’s class managed to get a couple of the bullets, with the lead removed, into the fire – and bang !

The principal then called in the interim police force to collect the collectibles and the odd revolver from the boys in the school.

The poem will give you a blow by blow account of the event.

Surrender your Pistol

There are many people around the Castleisland area who will be familiar with the line: ‘Surrender your Pistol said Markie the Tan.’

The line, but little more, was often uttered in moments of levity at pub counters and in other silence breaking moments.

And though the line doesn’t appear as quoted in this surviving version, it is understandable as it was made and delivered in a era of almost total oral communication of songs and stories.

We can presume that Markie O’Sullivan was given the name in a bout of nicknaming irony. He was a republican and maybe it was because of the elevation to the role of law enforcer that it came about.

A Bit of Alteration

Even the first line of the poem which appeared in The Kerryman in 1982 suffered from a bit of an alteration in that the Markie the Tan line was editorially changed to Markie Sullivan.

Maurice Kelliher followed up on the people in the poem and he recalled speaking to Markie O’Sullivan at his home in Kilbanivane where he lived with his daughter Mary O’Sullivan – or Mary Markie as she was far better known around Castleisland.

“I was talking to him last week about old times,” Maurice Kelliher wrote in his article. “He fought down around Clonmel in the Civil War and he still possesses a pair of boots bought for him in Clonmel by Éamonn de Valera.”

Markie the Tan – The Poem

On the sixth day of March 1922,

Three I.R.As came up to our school.

The first was named Buckley, a fine stalwart man,

The others named Carey and Markie the Tan.


When they entered the school, there the boys they did meet,

They searched them all over from head to the feet.

They found some explosive by a manly young man,

Hurrah now boys we have ye says Markie the Tan.


Buckley stood out in the middle of the school,

If ye have these explosives y’er breaking the rule,

These explosives and bullets would shatter a man,

So please hand them over to Markie the Tan.


Hands up then was given and the boys did obey,

Mr. Buckley stood out saying he’d something to say.

These bullets and explosives Mr. Buckley began,

Must be all handed over to Markie the Tan.


Some put their revolvers in holes in the floor,

While Buckley and Kearney were shivering all o’er.

And Heffernan came up with a face like a pan,

Surrender your arms cried Markie the Tan.


When they got to the last desk they were shivering with fear,

Kearney screamed out “revolvers are near”.

About revolvers and bullets we don’t give a damn,

We’ve had good experience says Markie the Tan.


The three I.R.As went out by the door,

Revolvers were taken from holes in the floor.

And the boys gave a cheer and said we don’t give a dam,

About Buckley of Carey or Markie the Tan.


When they went back to the Barracks their pockets were full,

Of empty old cartridges and a broken old gun.

Said Buckley to Carey “we’ve defeated their plan,

And all through the genius of Markie the Tan.


So now for a finish we ask for a cheer,

For the boys of Castleisland and a cause we love dear.

We will have our explosives and all our own plan,

In spite of the threats of bold Markie the Tan.

With thanks to Mary Wren Crowley for sending the poem from Sligo. It would be great to hear from anyone who may know the identity of the author.