Little has changed of the Victorian establishment that stands only 100 yards or so from the birthplace of Oscar Wilde. Dispensing cabinets and their contents of brown paper-wrapped prescriptions and rolls of undeveloped film remain intact.
The 11 by 14-foot building in Dublin was originally a general practitioner’s consulting room. Pharmacist Frederick William Sweny took over in 1853, and the place operated as a apothecary until 2009. It’s had several owners since then, but their surname remains above the door to this day.
In 1904, James Joyce consulted with Sweny for his novel Ulysses. In the book, Leopold Bloom picks up a bar of lemon soap while waiting for a prescription. The “sweet lemony wax” becomes a kind of talisman and features throughout his continuing journey, which is recreated every year on “Bloomsday” (June 16).
There was no plan for the place after the pharmacy closed. People continued to wander in, looking for their own lemon soap talisman, and it just evolved into what it is now, a second-hand bookshop run by volunteers. Sweny’s also hosts readings and special events, and every Bloomsday it’s filled to the brim with those on the Ulysses pilgrimage route.
The shop encourages folks to come in and browse its book selection, or read a passage from Ulysses. One can even still purchase a bar of “sweet lemony wax” to commemorate the event.