Filoli’s Irish Connections

Categories: Blog, Blog Post

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17 we at Filoli wanted to highlight the close connections between Filoli and Ireland.  William and Agnes Bourn the builders of Filoli also owned another amazing estate: Muckross in Ireland. The murals here in the Filoli ballroom depict the Muckross House and the surrounding area. Their only child Maud Bourn married an Irishman by the name of Arthur Rose Vincent. Arthur and Maud met on a ship travelling to Europe in 1906. They became acquainted and wrote letters to one another for almost four years before getting married in San Mateo on March 30, 1910.

Muckross House

William and Agnes originally rented Muckross House in Co. Kerry in 1910 for their newlywed daughter Maud and her husband Arthur Rose Vincent. Arthur was Anglo-Irish and his family seat was at Summerhill (now gone) in Co. Clare. When Maud and Arthur arrived in Ireland to meet and visit with the Vincents they found the Bourns! Surprise!  After renting Muckross for the year 1910 William decided to buy the place for $200,000.

Maud and Arthur could not afford the place by themselves. Arthur had given up his work with the UK Judiciary Service to marry Maud was planning to find a job on his return to Ireland.  Arthur had worked all over the world in Kenya, Zanzibar, Hong Kong, Thailand and Korea. Mr. Bourn gave Maud and Arthur a salary to care for the property and also a fund for operating expenses. Muckross was always owned by Mr. Bourn although Maud and Arthur actually lived there.

When Elizabeth Rose ‘Rosie’  Vincent was born in 1915 the staff of Muckross gave her a memory book and silver salver (tray). They wrote in the book that they were ‘the envied people of the districts around us, we are always well cared for.’ It is a lovely sentiment from the people who worked with and for the Vincents.

Maud and Arthur were great hosts. They often had people over from California, New York, and London for visits and shooting parties.  Maud adored poetry and liked to have Irish literary people at Muckross including famous poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats visited the house at least twice. ABW ‘Billy’ Vincent, Maud and Arthur’s second child, clearly recalled him at the house.  Billy said he thought Yeats was “a bit mad” as he often would talk to the trees and tap them. Young Billy’s room was over Yeats’ and one night forgot to turn off the taps in his bathroom. All night the water flowed into Yeats’ room. He began writing his poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ the next day.

Filoli and Muckross

Muckross heavily inspired Filoli. After the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco many of the leading families moved down south on the peninsula.  Agnes and William chose this spot for Filoli because the mountains, rift valley and Crystal Springs reservoir reminded them of Muckross. Back then you could actually see the Reservoir from Filoli.  William and Agnes had the sunken garden built here which was inspired by Muckross’s. Each visit to Muckross the Bourn’s took clippings from the garden. Our Yew trees which are all along the Yew Allee and flank the swimming pool are from Muckross clippings. They also brought cuttings of myrtle and holly.  

The greatest ode to Muckross (and Ireland) is of course the beautiful FIloli ballroom. All of the murals here depict parts of the estate.  Artist Ernest Piexotto was a family friend and charged with bringing Muckross to life here at Filoli. Maud and Agnes wanted to bring Muckross to Mr. Bourn after strokes left him unable to travel there.  


Modern Connections

Today you can visit Muckross just like Filoli.  After the tragic death of Maud Bourn Vincent in 1929 from pneumonia, Mr. Bourn decided to get rid of Muckross. His son-in-law Arthur Rose Vincent convinced him to donate the grand estate. It is now known as the Bourn- Vincent Memorial Park. Arthur was a member of the new Irish Republic’s Senate.  The Bourn-Vincent Memorial Park was Ireland’s first National Park and included 11,000 acres along with the house. The park forms the core of Killarney National Park.

On October 25, 2015 Filoli hosted the President of Ireland Dr. Michael Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins. The President and Sabina were guests of honour at a reception for 700 Irish Community members from the ‘Bay Area’, hosted by Consul General Philip Grant here at Filoli. The celebration highlighted the links both old and new between Ireland and the Silicon Valley/San Francisco region. President Higgins donated an inscribed book to Filoli, “An Irish Florilegium: Wild and Garden Plants of Ireland.”

On foggy days here at Filoli you can easily imagine yourself in Ireland!