Sweny’s Pharmacy

Dublin, Leinster

Sweny’s Pharmacy: The inspiration for one of the most famous books of all time was a 19th-century pharmacy that has fittingly become a bookstore.

Exploring Sweny's Pharmacy in Dublin

Situated within Dublin’s south inner city bubble, a mere 100 yards from the historic birthplace of Oscar Wilde, stands a relic of Victorian Dublin – Sweny's Pharmacy. For over a century, it dutifully served as an apothecary, maintaining its Victorian allure with intact dispensing cabinets and shelves adorned with medicinal relics until its closure in 2009.

However, Sweny's story doesn't end with the closure of the pharmacy. With no predetermined plan for its future, the space organically evolved into a second-hand bookshop run by volunteers. Today, stepping inside, visitors are transported back in time, greeted by a mahogany counter, glass cabinets, and shelves stocked with antique medicines and photographs.

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The Origins of Sweny’s Pharmacy

Originally established as a GP's consulting room, this modest 11 by 14-foot building was later taken over by pharmacist Frederick William Sweny. From here it reopened as a "dispensing chemist" named "F.W. Sweny and Co (Limited)" in 1853. Situated on Lincoln Place, the pharmacy was not only a provider of medical supplies but also a witness to the medical facilities and establishments, including a Turkish baths and ophthalmic hospital, that populated the area at the time.

Fast forward to modern times, and Sweny's continues to attract notable visitors, including a visit from President of France Emmanuel Macron in August 2021. As of February 2022, Sweny's was under the management of PJ Murphy.

Sweny’s Pharmacy: Becoming a Joycean Landmark

It wasn’t until 1904 that famous author James Joyce, stepped into Sweny’s Pharmacy, seeking inspiration and details for his masterpiece, "Ulysses." The encounters between Joyce and the pharmacist, Frederick William Sweny, would later be immortalised in the pages of the novel.

In "Ulysses," protagonist Leopold Bloom makes a significant visit to Sweny's, purchasing items while contemplating the history of alchemy. The mention of the philosopher's stone and the symbolism of a bar of lemon soap resonate throughout the narrative, adding layers of meaning to Bloom's journey. This connection between literature and reality has elevated Sweny's from a mere pharmacy to a real life landmark of Joyce's legacy.

Despite economic challenges leading to its closure as a pharmacy in 2009, Sweny's experienced an unexpected resurgence due to its existence as a Joycean landmark. Because of this, visitors flocked to the historic site as part of a “Ulysses” pilgrimage each Bloomsday.

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Visiting Sweny's Pharmacy

Since its transformation in 2009, Sweny's has been lovingly maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers, the Friends of Sweny's, who share a passion for preserving its heritage. Every day, they open their doors to host open readings from Joyce's works, sharing insights into the history of the shop and Dublin itself.

"Volunteers often wear the white chemist’s coat, read aloud and remember romantic Dublin through the words of James Joyce.”

PJ Murphy, manager of Sweny’s Pharmacy.

Visitors can browse through second-hand editions of Joyce's works, participate in lively reading groups focusing on Ulysses and other writings, or simply soak in the ambiance with a cup of tea and biscuits. And, of course, no visit to Sweny's is complete without purchasing a bar of the iconic "sweet lemony wax" soap, famously mentioned in Ulysses.

In a city brimming with history and culture, Sweny's Pharmacy stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of one of Ireland's greatest literary icons. Whether you're a seasoned Joycean scholar or simply curious to explore Dublin's rich literary heritage, a visit to Sweny's promises to be a truly enriching and unforgettable experience.

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Preserving Joyce's Memory

The pharmacy's association with Bloomsday, an annual celebration on 16th June of Joyce's work, has helped it maintain its relevance and attract visitors interested in experiencing the settings immortalised in “Ulysses”. Sweny's resilience mirrors the themes of rebirth and continuity found in Joyce's writing, ensuring its continued presence as a cherished piece of Dublin's cultural heritage.

Despite being a steadfast presence on 1 Lincoln Place in Dublin 2, the pharmacy's ability to cover expenses solely through soap sales and donations from visitors was challenged by a rent increase last July, effectively doubling its monthly expenses.

"In order to be able to keep up with the increased rent, the pharmacy has set up a Patreon account to raise money.”

This statement highlights the necessity of community support in preserving the bookstore.

Reflecting on the potential consequences of closure, PJ said, "It would have a huge impact because it’s a great, fun place to be in and to be working in because you get people from all over the world." PJ's sentiment underscores the social and cultural significance Sweny's holds for both locals and tourists.

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- Ben@Balade

Our Thoughts…

Despite the passage of time, Sweny's retains its original charm. Though no longer a functioning pharmacy, Sweny's holds a significant place in Dublin's literary landscape, immortalised in James Joyce's “Ulysses”. Combined with nearby attractions such as Oscar Wilde's birthplace and the National Gallery, a visit to Sweny's will be a memorable experience full of Irish history and culture.

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