Sweny’s – The worst pharmacy in the city
Tucked away on Lincoln place, in the heart of Dublin’s south inner city, is Sweny’s pharmacy. It was made famous by the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. Sweny’s is no longer a working pharmacy, but a key part of Dublin’s culture and nostalgia. It’s run by volunteers to maintain its original 1850’s Victorian style – made obvious by the mahogany counter and old glass cabinets outlining the room. Shelves of unopened medicine bottles and old photographs sit in the cabinets, still waiting to be collected. The original chemists sign is still intact, proving that this place has not lost its charm!
It was originally built in 1847 as a GP’s consulting room and became a pharmacy in 1853. It’s within 100 yards of the birthplace of Oscar Wilde and in 1904, the young James Joyce called to this very store. In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, the fictional character, visits Sweny’s pharmacy to pick up a lotion for his wife, Molly. He consults with Frederick William Sweny (the pharmacist at the time) in such detail that you could almost recreate the prescription he describes. Bloom admires the bottles of potions, taking in his surroundings in descriptive detail: “He waited by the counter, inhaling the keen reek of drugs, the dusty dry smell of sponges and loofahs. Lot of time taken up telling your aches and pains.” While waiting for the pharmacist, Bloom smells the lemon soap on the counter and decides to take a bar with him. The soap becomes a key part of his famous journey that is re-created every year on June 16th – Bloomsday. Sweny’s is also 50 yards from the location where James Joyce was stood up by Nora Barnacle. “On Bloomsday this place is swarming with people, you’d hardly fit in the door. People stop to buy some lemon soap along the way, it’s like a pilgrimage” notes Davy, a volunteer working in Sweny’s.
It became a protected property last year, maintained by the volunteers. There are about 20 volunteers, each working different shifts throughout the week. Joyce’s works are treasured here, with daily readings by the volunteers and visitors. The volunteers, often wearing the white chemists coat, read aloud and remember romantic Dublin in the words of James Joyce. Visitors can read a page aloud and pass the book around the room. It’s not just tourists who come here, but regulars too. Stools are plotted around the room for visitors to sit, read and have a chat afterwards, creating a welcoming atmosphere.
Unopened medicine bottles sit on shelves, ready to be curiously admired. A selection of second-hand books fill the space in the centre of the room, waiting to be browsed. Oh, and not to forget, there’s the lemon-scented soap on the counter, the very soap that made the shop famous!