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Unit 18 – Tricky Questions on Classic Poetry

Difficulty: Hard
Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


Below is an extract from Like Dolmens Round My Childhood…, a poem by John Montague


Like dolmens round my childhood, the old people.

Jamie MacCrystal sang to himself,
A broken song without tune, without words;
He tipped me a penny every pension day,
Fed kindly crusts to winter birds.
When he died, his cottage was robbed,
Mattress and money-box torn and searched.
Only the corpse they didn’t disturb.

Maggie Owens was surrounded by animals,
A mongrel bitch and shivering pups,
Even in her bedroom a she-goat cried.
She was a well of gossip defiled,
Fanged chronicler of a whole countryside;
Reputed a witch, all I could find
Was her lonely need to deride.

The Nialls lived along a mountain lane
Where heather bells bloomed, clumps of foxglove.
All were blind, with Blind Pension and Wireless.
Dead eyes serpent-flickered as one entered
To shelter from a downpour of mountain rain.
Crickets chirped under the rocking hearthstone
Until the muddy sun shone out again.

Mary Moore lived in a crumbling gatehouse,
Famous as Pisa for its leaning gable.
Bag-apron and boots, she tramped the fields
Driving lean cattle from a miry stable.
A by-word for fierceness, she fell asleep
Over love stories, Red Star and Red Circle,
Dreamed of gypsy love-rites, by firelight sealed.

Wild Billy Eagleson married a Catholic servant girl
When all his Loyal family passed on:
We danced round him shouting ‘To hell with King Billy’,
And dodged from the arc of his flailing blackthorn.
Forsaken by both creeds, he showed little concern
Until the Orange drums banged past in the summer
And bowler and sash aggressively shone.


1. “…All I could find/Was her lonely need to deride” (end of 2nd stanza) is closest in meaning to:

  • A      She was a witch
  • B      She was not a witch
  • C      She hated people
  • D      She had few personal belongings



2. Based on evidence provided in the poem, what do all of the named characters in the poem have in common?

  • A      They all died
  • B      They all lived in the countryside
  • C      They were all old
  • D      They were all buried under dolmens



3. Which of the following facets of Irish history is not referenced in some way in the poem?

  • A      Ancient Irish burial customs
  • B      British rule
  • C      Tradition of arable farming
  • D      Emigration


Some students struggle with poetry, but excel at data interpretation and comprehending scientific passages. The GAMSAT Sample Questions Practice Papers test all of these skills and include detailed explanations of all the answers, so you can improve on your weaknesses and clarify your strengths. 

  • Q1: B
    She was reputed a witch, but after she died all the poet could find was ‘her lonely need to deride’. This suggests that she got her rep as a witch for being nasty to people and generally critical of them, but that she did it out of loneliness – not witchcraft. None of the answers assess the issue of her loneliness, but B is closest because the others were way off.

    Q2: A
    The first two stanzas clearly show that the characters died. As the poem goes on the deaths become more subtle. It doesn’t say where Eagerson lived, so he’s not necessarily in the countryside. He also wasn’t necessarily old. Dolmens was just a simile.

    I would accept that this possibly wasn’t a very fair question, as there are hints that they were all old (if you take the first line meaning of ‘old’) literally. Also the poet lived in the countryside, so although Eagerson’s address is not specifically mentioned, it would be logical to assume that he lived nearby. ACER put a lot of effort into making sure their answers are indisputable and in this respect I think Q2 is not fully representative of an official GAMSAT style question. If you’re keeping score on yourself on these daily questions then feel free to skip this one!

    Q3: D
    Ancient irish burial customs: reference to dolmens
    British Rule: Eagersons ‘Loyal’ family, ‘Orange’ drums, ‘To hell with King Billy’ (Billy = short for William)
    Arable Farming: Maggie Owens & Mary Moore’s cattle

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    May 29, 2012

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