Crowds assemble for meetings under our most renowned patriots: one on a high pedestal, the surrounding two lower down. Politicians say that purity built Ireland, and tell audiences to cling to it. The “three old rascals” laugh.
This poem provides a bit of topical humor in an otherwise quite serious collection. The three monuments about which Yeats writes were on O’Connell Street (called Sackville Street before independence), the main thoroughfare in Dublin. The three monuments are of Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Admiral Nelson (the latter of which is placed on a pedestal, higher than the other two). The irony is that none were lily-white men who should be held up as examples. Parnell notoriously had an affair with a married woman, O’Connell was a known demagogue, and Nelson was an imperialist. Nelson’s Pillar, as it was known, was blown to pieces on Easter 1966 by the IRA, presumably to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.