O’Beirn’s Pharmacy, Henry Street

Our photograph today is of the Galway Committee of the Pharmaceutical Union who organised a national conference of their peers here in the early 1960’s. They are, back row; Paul Hayes, Lydon’s Pharmacy; Gussie Hayes, Portumna; Tommy Farmer a medical rep and also a qualified pharmacist who lived and worked out of Devon Park. In front are Eibhlín Ó Beirn, Ó Beirn’s Pharmacy, Henry Street; Mary Breen; Mary Barry who worked in Merlin Park; Judy Walsh, Spiddal; Síle Ó Beirn, Henry Street; Laura Cunniffe, William Street and Salthill.

Síle and Eibhlín O’Beirn were the daughters of Séamus, a man of many parts who was born in Tamhain in 1881. He set up a group of actors there and wrote plays for them. He was the founder of An Taidhbhearc and became a medical doctor. In those days, if you had a medical degree and if you passed a three-hour pharmacy exam in Dublin, you were entitled to open a chemist shop, so if you see the words Medical Hall or Doctor included in the sign above a pharmacy door, you know that is how the business started.

Séamus got his exam and began to look for premises in which to set up his business. He started in Shop Street but could not afford anything that was on offer there so he kept moving away from the city centre until he found a location that was within his budget. This was in Henry Street where he opened his shop on the twelfth of April, 1935. Joan Lawson was his first pharmacist. Eventually his two daughters Síle and Eibhlín qualified as pharmacists and took over the running of the business and later the third generation, Síle’s daughter Bríd took over at the helm.

She retired in 2005 and leased the premises. It closed recently but has now re-opened under new management. They have installed a simple elegant new shop front and decorated the interior in a traditional style, and the overall effect of the fine workmanship is very classy and stylish. In addition to carrying on normal chemist shop business, they have some fascinating old pharmaceutical artefacts on display such as a Victorian Inhaler, a suppository mould, pill making machines etc. Indeed, parts of the shop resemble a mini-museum.

They also have old account books which include interesting details of doctor’s orders and the kind of prices they paid. For example, the account for An Taidhbhearc shows they bought face paints and cold creams, flasks and fans, caffeine powder and Hall’s Wine, a pair of false eyelashes which must have been ordered from someplace far away as they cost ten shillings to post. When O’Beirn’s got their first consignment of Polaroid glasses, a local man came in and spent a long time trying on every pair in stock. Eventually, he bought the most expensive ones in the house.

A few weeks later he came back and asked if he could use the baby-weighing scale. He placed a long parcel wrapped in newspaper and twine on it and noted the weight. It took a long time to get rid of the smell of fish from the scales (Pardon the pun ).

This evening, Nov 6, The Western Archeological and Historical Society are hosting a lecture by Tim Collins on the subject of “Father Peter Daly”. It takes place in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm and all are welcome. The Galway Archeological and Historical Society are hosting a lecture in the Harbour Hotel on Monday next, November 10th at 8pm. The titleis “Captain George O’Malley 1786-1860; His manuscript narrative and smuggling career analysed”. It will be given by Professor Louis Cullen and all are welcome.


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