Sweny’s Joycean Pharmacy
What can you find in an old pharmacy?
One day I was staring at the display on the front window of a quirky spot on 1 Lincoln Place. There were books in front of the shop, a retro looking bench and fancy hats at the display. It wasn’t the first time when I was marvelling at the window, but that was the first time when I got the courage and stepped inside. As I quickly realised, I found myself in a time-machine where time stopped in the year 1847. It was the pharmacy that was described in James Joyce’s Ulysses and stayed in the same shape for over the century.
The never used bottles and prescriptions were standing on the shelves, surrounding tables with books. The man who greeted me, had entirely white, long, curly hair, chemist’s apron and a fancy bow-tie. He started to talk about the Irish word “craic” that means “fun” in the Gaelic language. He spoke a lot, but I could barely understand him, I was standing there, nodding and smiling, too shy to say even a word. Before long, he’s invited me to come for the Ulysses readings, an event that I would never think that exist in a digitalized XXI century.
Old school entertainment
During the reading, every participant got a copy of a book and read one page of a Ulysses chapter, until it was finished. Before the reading, the “MC” explained the meaning of the events in the episode. After the reading everyone, no matter if they were there for the first or one hundred first time, went to the pint of Guinness to the “Kennedy’s” pub across the street.
At the time when I went to Sweny’s Pharmacy for the first time, I didn’t know that PJ, the white-haired guy who greeted me, will become one of my friends.
Where to eat after
Kennedy’s is one of the places that offer Irish food and drink, including Irish Coffee, and breakfast made of livers on the Bloomsday, the huge holiday based on Ulysses. The plot of Ulysses takes part on 16 of July in various places in Dublin, so as you’ve probably already guessed, the Bloomsday takes place on 16 July. There are events all around the city, in the Sandycove tower where James Joyce lived with two of his friend, the steam train with traditional food can take you on the way along the coast, and you can see people dressed up all around the city.
Apparently, real party means good food, and Ireland has a lot to offer in this matter, no matter if you’re omnivore, carnivore, vegetarian or vegan, you will for sure find an option for yourself. Just behind the corner of the Lincoln Place, on the Pearse Street, you can find the healthiest takeaway, called “Camille”. They offer Thai cuisine, and they do perfect prawns for their curries. There is the white collars favourite “Staple Foods” on the Grattan Street that offers Paleo diet whose menu is brief but fresh, and the service is friendly and fast.
When you’re thinking about lunch…
If you prefer to move closer to the city centre, you can find a vegetarian restaurant Cornucopia that offers the vegan menu in 90%. Behind the Cornucopia, you can treat yourself to a bento lunch in a cosy Japanese restaurant Ukiyo, or farther, on the way to the Dublin Castle, you can find Umi Falafel that offers you an oriental taste for a small price and Counter Burger if you like something more consistent.
…or a little treat with a hot drink
If you want to stop by for tea or coffee, I can recommend atmospheric places: hipster Kaph or Clement and Pekoe or more romantic and intimate Oolong Flower Power or Tea Gardens that will take you to the “zen” zone with their Asian ambience and relaxing music. If you like to make new friends on the way, Accents seem the perfect option, with huge couches and armchairs where you can socialise.
When you want to get some rest
After you get yourself full, you ought to rest in one of Dublin’s parks. I have a few favourites, the main being St Stephen’s Green, just off the Grafton Street with its openwork gazebos, a small lake and river with swans, cranes and seagulls and lawns where you can lay and read a book, stare at the sky or take a nap. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a spot on a sunny day, but don’t give up, as that’s one of the best places to unwind in the city.
If you’re not in a mood for a bit less crowded place, you might choose to go to the Merrion Square, and that is located just at the corner of Sweny’s Pharmacy. You can see their distinctive Oscar Wilde sculpture, see and sit on the Jocker’s Chair that commemorates the memory of Dermot Morgan, who played the protagonist Father Ted in a sitcom with the same title, and get some exotic food from the food market on Thursday afternoon. Just a short stroll from the park, you will find a National Gallery where you can treat yourself to a perfectly brewed coffee and healthy cake or soup and continue your journey through an Irish and international art.
Sweet Molly Malone
When you’re full of energy, you can rent a bike or take a walk to Grafton Street to see the Molly Malone, a beautiful, big breasted woman from Irish urban legend who sold seafood and died of a fever. Molly Malone’s statue is twenty-eight years old. Now she’s standing in front of the Tourist’s Office because passersby were groping her cleavage too much and the bronze she’s made of started to lose its hue.
What can you find in the city centre?
After making your eyes happy with Molly, you can head off to O’Connell Street when you can see the outstanding post office: the GPO. The building was reconstructed after being destroyed during Irish Rising in 1916. Inside, you will find a small and funny interactive An Post Museum where you can spend about an hour, learning about the history of the Irish post office.
So, just when you leave the GPO, you’ll see the huge silver needle, pointing into the sky. That needle, called Spire, is the largest sculpture in Europe, and it doesn’t have any practical function, except for maybe being an orientation point. From there you can head to the Temple Bar, the most touristic and crowded neighbourhood, through the romantic Ha’Penny Bridge. When you arrive, you can immerse yourself in the debauchery of a district where people constantly drink Guinness and Irish Coffee, and the live music pours out from every pub.
If you’re looking for a more sophisticated entertainment, then go to the Project Arts Centre to see one of the modern performances. If you are lucky (like I was), maybe you’ll see an Irishman Andrew Scott’s (yes, THE Moriarty from the BBC Sherlock) live performance. You can choose to take a stroll around the exhibitions in the Gallery of Photography or Photographic Archive (free of charge), or go to see the independent movie in an Irish Film Institute. From the Temple Bar take a walk to the Dublin Castle that offers another hidden and free gem: Chester Betty Library. Dublin Castle looks like made of Lego bricks. Yellow, blue, green, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times during the centuries, without any consideration for the beauty standards. Behind the castle, you can lie on a huge lawn or hide in a nook that contains sculptures, memorials and small waterfall. After the rest, go to the library, to browse through ages and continents, watching Japanese manuscripts, French engravings, original works of Albrecht Durer and decorated versions of Quran. If you love fine arts, you will have to spare about three to four hours to sink in the atmosphere and beauty of this place.
To see and do:
- Joycean Sweny’s Pharmacy, 1 Lincoln Place. Ulysses readings every Thursday at 7 pm, Dubliners every day at 1 pm.
- Dress up for Bloomsday in Dublin on July 16th
- See the Irish and international art in the National Gallery
- See (and don’t grope) the Molly Mallone statue
- Learn about the Irish post in the An Post Museum in General Post Office on O’Connel Street
- See the Japanese manuscripts and all sorts of art in the Chester Beatty Library
- Lose yourself in Temple Bar, be it drinking for the entire day or taking part in cultural events
Where to eat:
- Kennedy’s Pub, 31-32 Westland Row, Irish food
- Camille Thai, 43 Pearse Street, meat, seafood, vegetarian options
- Staple Foods, Paleo, meat/vegan options
- Cornucopia, 19-20 Wicklow Street, 90% vegan
- Ukiyo, 9 Exchequer Street, Japanese
- The Counter, 20 Suffolk Street meat, paleo
- Umi Falafel, 13 Dame Street, vegetarian, vegan
For tea or coffee:
- Kaph, 31 Drury Street
- Clement and Pekoe, 50 South William Street
- Oolong Flower Power, 4 Stephen’s Street Lower
- Tea Gardens, 7 Ormond Quay
Where to rest:
- St Stephens Green Park
- Merrion Square Park
Dear Reader, I think I got you enough ideas to fill not one day, but an entire week, and there is so much more to see. The seashore, mountains on the north and the south, hills and valleys, trekking and hiking trails. Whatever your thing is, Dublin is a place for you and has many surprises, so don’t hesitate and book your flight. Try to do some Couchsurfing, so you will get a guide who will show you hidden gems, take a walk and lose yourself in the vibrant and colourful atmosphere of this busy capital.