Charles Frizell DL (1738-1812)
The first Frizell to establish himself at Castlekevin was Charles Frizell Junior, born in Wexford in 1738. Both his father, Charles Frizell Senior, and his elder brother, Richard, were professional land surveyors and cartographers based in the wider county. Although Charles Senior may have begun life as a humble freeholder, by 1748 he was employed under the Deputy Surveyor General of Ireland. Demands for his highly skilled services brought Charles Senior in touch with many of Ireland’s premiere landowning families, most prominent among them being the Viscounts Loftus, who held their impressive Wexford family seat at Loftus Hall.
Trained in the vocation by their adroit father, Charles Junior and Richard rapidly made a name for themselves by the sweat of their brow, and their artistic prowess as map-makers. Indeed, a significant volume of their undertakings are still intact in the National Library. Unlike many of their contemporaries in the profession, the Frizell brothers went a step beyond simply depicting measurements of allotments, and the names of tenant farmers. As a matter of fact, they frequently added elaborate notes to their surveys, giving instructions on how to maximise the agricultural utility of the estates. This was likely a factor in Richard’s hiring as the land agent to Henry Loftus, 1st Earl of Ely (1709-1783) in 1777, who entrusted the family with the care of his lands at Rathfarnham Castle.
Twice a widower, Frizell first married Sarah Adrien in 1768, which eventually produced the future Castlekevin heir in 1781, also named Charles Junior. After Sarah died in 1786, he wedded the much younger Mary Ball in 1792, the daughter of a Dublin merchant with landed interests in Newtownmountkennedy. Unfortunately, she too passed away within a year of the ceremony. Yet Charles’ first experiences in dipping his toes in the Wicklow waters date back to at least the end of the 1760s. In 1767, Charles single-handedly surveyed the estate of Piedmont in Ballinacor in the possession of Robert Hellen – who later rose to become a Wexford MP and Solicitor General of Ireland. Additionally, by 1771, the brothers conducted a contract for Colonel Thomas Cobbe, the MP for Swords, who held the deeds to lands in the villages of Lacken and Ballyknockan.
Estate map 1777
By the time Richard had established himself as land agent to the Earl of Ely, Charles managed to acquire an old map of the Castlekevin demesnes, which surely influenced his decision to ultimately settle on the expansive property. In elaborately illustrated detail, each building, tenancy, and acreage of the various land holdings are carefully listed by a professional cartographer, Michael Curwen. Note that slight amendments have been made to the list of tenants in the bottom left hand corner under the heading of “references”, most likely in the handwriting of Charles himself, along with some adjustments to the acreage allotment on the face of the map itself. It seems the Wexford native was planning to settle at Castlekevin from at least 1785, paying an initial instalment of £2000 in 1789, and setting up shop there shortly thereafter. As proprietor, Frizell primarily dwelt around the north-eastern portion of the map, in and around Willmount House. That being said, it took a number of decades before all this land fully belonged to the Frizells – as the estate was purchased gradually in parcels, with further acquisitions continuing until 1826.
After arriving at Castlekevin, using his business and marital ties advantage – Charles quickly advanced up the ladder of local government. By April 1792, Frizell was recorded as a member of the Wicklow Grand Jury. The following year, he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the County, entitling him to use the post-nominal letters “DL”. But trouble brewed on the horizon, as the British Isles entered a prolonged period of warfare with Revolutionary France. Local militias and yeomanry corps were established nationwide for internal defence, and like many men of similar status – Frizell joined their ranks. His loyalism made him a target of Joseph Holt and his United Irishmen followers, and Willmount House was put to the torch by the insurrectionists in June 1798. Present in the burning building during this incident, Charles is rumoured to have dived out the window with a bag of money in his hand, barely escaping alive. Subsequently, he put in a claim with Dublin Castle, reporting the loss of his “house, furniture, cattle, wine, hay, straw.”
Troubles with United Irishmen at Castlekevin continued during the period of post-rebellion unrest. In December 1800, the infamous Rathdrum Calvary attempted to hunt down a number of Michael Dwyer’s associates hiding on the estate – Andrew Thomas, John Harman, and John Byrne. A Castlekevin tenant, Matthew MacDaniel, was reported to be concealing arms and rebels in his cottage. Seeing the writing on the wall, McDaniel sprinted towards Willmount House, only to be identified (probably by Charles himself) and quickly apprehended. McDaniel’s cottage was then set ablaze by loyalists, and not realising the amount of gunpowder hidden within – they accidentally provoked an earth-shaking explosion. The fate of the remaining rebels at the hands of the Calvary was rather grizzly. Thomas was pistol whipped, shot in the leg, and trampled with a horse until death. Subsequently, his corpse was decapitated – and the severed head displayed as a warning atop the Flannel Hall in Rathdrum. Harman succeeded in fleeing to the hills, but Byrne was captured, and turned against his allies to save himself from the hangman’s noose.
When stability eventually returned, Frizell resumed his activities as a land surveyor, long into old age. In August 1810, he wrote his last will and testament during a map-making expedition to Cavan. After suffering what was, in his own words, a “very severe attack of the bowels'”, Charles requested to be laid to rest in St. Canice’s Churchyard in Finglas. Nevertheless, he survived this bout of illness, although the ailment probably diminished his last reserves of strength. When Charles died on 5 January 1812, at close to 74 years old, he left Castlekevin to Charles Junior, and donated £200 to provide meals to the underprivileged of Finglas.