By Terry Trench 1995
The village square or octagon is the great feature of Slane, carefully designed as a unit to give a dignity to the village. The four three storey houses, larger in size and scale than the other buildings in the village, face diagonally to the center of the crossroads, and the end of the terraces forming the village streets have their gable ends designed in each case with a pair of blind arches. This was done for appearance only. The arches could have had no practical function.
The four houses were not all built at the same time, nor by the same person. The first to be built, on the north west corner, was an inn. The site on the north east corner was given on 13th August 1767 to Henry Fisher by Viscount Conyngham, stipulating that a house was to be built within five years to the same plan as the new inn lately built opposite this site ‘in the circle laid out in the Towne of Slane’. One admires the foresight of this planning. All four houses were built in due course on a similar plan. They are of grey limestone with the walling in squared but undressed stone roughly set in courses or layers with dressed quoins. They show their individuality in the splendid doorways, each of a different design. The windows have simple cut stone jambs and a neat keystone, slightly projecting, in each lintel. They look better with the small panes rather than the large ones of a later date.
The layout of the whole unit now includes the front garden walls and gates, but these were added much later. In 1836 the north east corner had a curved front wall. The other three houses opened directly on to the ‘Market Square’ with a fountain in the center. By 1855 the Constabulary Barracks on the south west side had the curved wall and by 1883 all four houses had it and the fountain had disappeared. The gates on the north west and south west corners have center knobs bearing the shamrock and rose and thistle emblems of the union of 1800. Street furniture included eight lovely wrought iron lamp standards on tapered stone bases. Four bases remain and these were re-sited in 1986, fitted with new lamp standards and electrified, by the Tidy Towns Committee.
In 1796 ‘the hunting lodge of Viscount Conyngham in the Circus in the town of Slane was attacked by miscreants who were forced to fly’.
There are many tales told of the persons by and for whom these four houses were built, but they may be dismissed as mostly fiction. The most popular, as told by some tour guides, is that they were built for four Conyngham sisters who were not on speaking terms. In fact there never were four such ladies. Another story is that they were built for the representatives of religion, medicine, law and order, but this too can be scotched, although in fact in the latter part of the nineteenth century they were indeed occupied by the priest, the doctor, the magistrate and the constabulary.