Sweney’s Pharmacy goes from strength to strength thanks to volunteers and tourists

Back in 2009, P.J. Murphy started the James Joyce reading groups at Sweney’s Pharmacy with the help of volunteers. The shop, which is located at 1 Lincoln Place, is in one of the few Victorian buildings in Dublin City. 

Today, Sweney’s Pharmacy is more than a place for appreciating James Joyce’s work. A vibrant international community that receives thousands of tourists every year, Sweney’s became a meeting point for literature, architecture, history and culture lovers.

“I came in then because it’s an early Victorian building and one of the only ones in Dublin,” says P.J.. “Ten years ago in October I started the groups with the help of volunteers, and it’s now in one of the ten top visit spots in Dublin. We get thousands of tourists,” he adds.

They run reading groups in five different languages spread across seven days a week. “We open seven days, even on Christmas day,” comments P.J.. As a language teacher, he welcomes the foreigners and points out it’s a good opportunity for him to practice. Even the crowd of regulars is diverse, says P.J., mentioning a Lithuanian woman and a Russian. “It’s nice so I can practice,” he adds. Some of the languages he speaks are Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Now he is beginning to learn Turkish and Arabic. 

“We have the language readings here because we are so close to the countries, like Spain, Portugal, and people want to improve their language skills,” explains P.J.. “There’s no better way to improve your skills than reading.”

The volunteers are also from multiple backgrounds including Brazil, the United States and, of course, Ireland. Local man Dave Doyle, who has been volunteering there for the past five years says one of the highlights of working in Sweney’s is meeting different people. “I love coming in to work in Sweney’s, mainly because I meet such interesting people. People who are interested in Joyce, people who are discovering Joyce for the first time by coming into Sweney’s,” says Dave. 

He adds that the pharmacy’s interior is also an attraction in itself. “Nobody comes in here for a transaction, they are also interested in the interior of the pharmacy, which is part of the Joyce connection,” explains Dave. 

Maintaining the reading groups, however, is a challenge, as the rent is 673 euro per week. “We don’t get funding,” says P.J.. “We’ve tried but they felt there were other people more needy than us.” Instead, Sweney’s Pharmacy survives from donations and selling their own unique products, like the infamous bar of lemon soap from Ulysses and a 25-euro T-shirt.

“I know it’s 25-euro but it helps pay the rent. People are not just buying a gift, but you’re also supporting us,” points out PJ. The T-shirt’s design was made especially for them based on James Joyce’s work.

P.J. also says you don’t have to be a James Joyce fanatic to join one of the groups. In fact, “we prefer that you are not,” he says. “Writing was never an academic exercise for him [James Joyce], he wrote for everyone,” explains P.J..

“If you can just about read three to four words, you’ll be welcome here,” he adds.

Sweney’s Pharmacy is open Monday to Sunday 11 am to 5 pm (Thursdays until 7 pm for late readings). To see reading group’s hours, please access their website: http://sweny.ie/site/readings/

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Julia Tereno


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