LOUGH SWILLY, DONEGAL, IRELAND
Potpourri that comes from Swilly! Seems like such a dichotomy. But it’s true.
And the incredible intertwining between Claire Burke, the founder of our wonderful brand, and me, Richard Neill, the current owner of the company, are just too unlikely to be true. But they are. And here is our parallel story.
Charles Basil Murray was born on June 16, 1867, one of thirteen children, in Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland, a town located at the inland tip of Lough Swilly. “Letterkenny” takes its name from the Gaelic name “Leitirceanainn” meaning “Hillside of the O’Cannons”, the O’Cannons being the one of the last ancient chieftains. The O’Cannon dynasty are descended from “Niall of the Nine Hostages”. I am a direct descendent of Niall of the Nine Hostages and grew up in the village of Manor Cunningham, a mere 6 miles from Letterkenny. The picture above is the view of Lough Swilly from my old front yard in Manor Cunningham.
Charles Murray came from the humblest of beginnings, having been born less than two decades after the great Irish potato famine, which reduced the Irish population by 25% due to starvation and emigration. Charles emigrated to New York City at the age of 17 to find a better life and went on to become a Doctor, a true illustration of the great American dream. He had two children, the elder being Claire Murray and the younger being Richard, known as Dick.
Claire married Frederick Burke, becoming Claire Burke, and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where she started her career as an interior decorator. Claire soon became widely appreciated for her exceptional sense of style, and eventually became the go-to interior decorator for Charlottesville high society.
Claire loved her work, loved her clients and they became family. One day, as she was completing a big project, she thought to herself, “How can I leave a small token of my appreciation that they will remember me by?”
Claire literally went into the forest near her home, collecting pine cones, leaves, nuts and berries. She contacted a fragrance house and described her vision for a fragrance unlike any other at that time. She identified the fragrance notes she loved such as lavender, rose, patchouli, nutmeg, and clove among others. It ended up being a complex mix of more than 60 ingredients which we will delve into in future blogs.
After MANY revisions, Claire finally approved a fragrance which would become known as Claire Burke Original. She poured the fragrance into her bathtub and blended it with the mix of nuts, cones, berries and leaves, bagged the mixture, put a beautiful bow on the bag, and left it as her parting gift to her client.
The year was 1957. From this simple gesture, an entire industry was born!
Work of mouth spread about her exquisite smelling potpourri, and the Claire Burke Potpourri Company was founded shortly thereafter. From that very humble beginning, a several hundred-million-dollar potpourri industry evolved over the coming decades with Claire Burke Original leading the way.
Claire hired her brother Dick to manage the factory floor. He was a chaplain’s assistant during the second world war. I am a Minister’s son. My career at Claire Burke was obviously preordained.
Like Claire’s father, I also left Ireland at the young age of 10 to start a new life in North America. I should add that I left with my parents…leaving at ten by myself would have been just been plain nuts (potpourri pun intended). Clearly it was meant to be that I buy the Claire Burke company. Claire’s and my family history overlaps in so many ways.
Claire died in 1993 at the age of 85. Richard died in 2010 at the ripe old age of 96. I hope I have not only inherited their Company’s legacy, but also their genes.
As home fragrance trends evolved, so did the Company. We now sell many different products such as filled candles, botanical candles, votives, tealights, wax melts, diffusers, room sprays and electric plug in warmer units and refills. During those 63 years, Claire Burke Original has always been at the center of the Company’s success and always will be.
I feel an immense sense of responsibility to honor Claire’s legacy and the Company she built, starting in her bathtub. Original is an iconic, timeless scent that has become generational. Sons and daughters buy it to remember how their Mother’s house smelt while growing up, just by adding a bag of CB Original potpourri in the living room, or a room spray in the bathroom. It has now become their scent too.
On behalf of the entire Claire Burke team, we thank you for your loyalty. We will work hard to continue to earn your affection. And I look forward to exploring with you, in future blogs, Claire’s view of how to make your house YOUR home while also delving into the ingredients that makes Claire Burke Original truly an original. It truly is an amazing story about how it all comes together. And to think, such a beautiful scent started with Swilly. Our Lough Swilly. 😊