“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.”
Ulysses, J. Joyce (1922)
Built in 1847 as a GP’s consulting room and later adapted to include an apothecary and then a pharmacy, Sweny’s has altered very little since that day. It has been “preserved through neglect” in memory of James Joyce. It has had several owners since the Sweny family, but the ‘Sweny’ trading name still remains.
F.W. Sweny and Co (Limited) opened its doors as a dispensing chemist in 1853. A fortuitous location in the heart of Dublin’s south inner city, it lies within 100 yards of the birthplace of Oscar Wilde.
In 1904 the young James Joyce called to this very store. He consulted with the then pharmacist Frederick William Sweny in such detail that it is possible to recreate the prescription he describes in Chapter 5 of his famous novel Ulysses.
Sweny’s also lies within 50 yards of the location where James Joyce was stood up by Nora Barnacle on 14th June 1904. Two days later she would give in to his pressing advances and that day, 16th June 1904, would go down in literary history as the day that forms the backdrop for Joyce’s Ulysses, arguably the greatest novel ever written.
Sweny’s has the great honour of being described in sumptuous detail within the novel. The hero, Leopold Bloom, comes into the shop, admires its bottles of potions and compounds and ponders the alchemy that the place possesses.
While waiting for the pharmacist Bloom smells the lemony soap on the counter and takes a bar with him. The soap becomes the talisman for his journey and is re-created every year on 16 June, Bloomsday.
Joyce’s works are cherished here and read aloud daily by the volunteers and visitors who take pleasure in the clarity of Joyce’s memories.
The sweet scent of lemon soap remains in the air; potions lie unopened and forever mystical. Photos waiting to be collected and portraits in their frames watch us while the pharmacists read aloud and recall romantic Dublin through the words of Joyce.