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Sweny’s Famous Bar of Soap

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Wendy at Sweny’s pharmacy and bookshop explains the legacy of the store and the affiliation with James Joyce’s famous Ulysses.

Swenys pharmacy is located at the top of Westland Row in Dublin 2.  As a student at UCD on Earlsfort Terrace, the young James Joyce would have been very familiar with it as a working pharmacy and must have visited it often.  You can only imagine the infinite patience of the then pharmacist Frederick William Sweny who would have served him –  the level of detail of the prescription mentioned in Ulysses is extremely detailed!

Chapter 5 of Ulysees is set in Swenys of Lincoln Place where Leopold Bloom calls in to collect a prescription for his wife Molly.  As Bloom waits he smells the bars of lemon soap and takes one with him arranging to call back later for the face cream Molly wants.  The bar of soap is the talisman for the journey Bloom then takes and is referred to many times in later chapters.
In Feb 2009 the pharmacy closed and was due to be converted into an extension to the adjacent cafe when a group of volunteers came in to photograph the site.  The doors were opened and people began to wander in – and it has been like that ever since. One of the volunteers had run a bookshop in a previous life, and so books began to creep onto the shelves and multiply –  our collection of Irish literature is eclectic to say the least.
As a UNESCO Dublin City of Literature site we now provide a daily reading from the works of Joyce every day at 1 and two taught Ulysses reading groups, Thursday at 7.00pm and Saturday at 11.00am  Check us out on www.sweny.ie and remember to call in on Bloomsday where we will be open from 8 til late!
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