Potpourri that comes from Swilly! Seems like such a dichotomy, but it’s true. The intertwining between founder, Claire Burke and CEO Richard Neill (me) is incredible. 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”, 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. Mr. Charles Murray came from the humblest of beginnings, having been born less than two decades after the great Irish potato famine, reducing the Irish population by 25% due to starvation and emigration. Charles emigrated to New York City at the age of seventeen 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 and started her career as an interior decorator. Claire 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.
The year was 1957, Claire was completing a big project and thought to herself, “How can I leave a small token of my appreciation that they will remember me by?”. She literally went into the forest 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.
Claire identified the fragrance notes she loved such as lavender, rose, patchouli, nutmeg, and clove among others. After many revisions, Claire developed a fragrance which would become known as Claire Burke Original, which ended up being a complex mix of more than 60 ingredients which we will delve into in future blogs. She poured the fragrance into a bathtub and blended it with the mix of nuts, cones, berries, leaves, and placed the mixture in a bag with a beautiful bow. From this simple gesture, an entire industry was born!
Dick was a chaplain’s assistant during the second world war. I am a Minister’s son. My career at Claire Burke was obviously preordained. My family history and Claire’s overlaps in so many ways. 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 died in 1993 at the age of 85. Richard died in 2010 at the ripe old age of 96.
During those 63 years, Claire Burke Original remained 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.