The first Carmelites arrived in Ireland in the 1270s, and established a friary at Leighlinbridge in Co. Carlow. In Dublin, Sir Robert Bagot, chief justice of the King’s Bench, built them a house in St Peter’s parish on the south side of the little walled city of Dublin. He had bought this bit of land (on which modern Whitefriars stands) from the Cistercian Abbey of Baltinglass in Co. Wicklow. The priory thrived but dark times were to come in the form of the Protestant Reformation during the sixteenth century. The suppression of the Irish houses began with places like White Abbey in Kildare town. Whitefriars, Dublin, was surrendered on August 3, 1539.
Early in the seventeenth century, the Carmelites were back in Dublin, and had established themselves in Cook Street. By 1728, the Carmelites had settled themselves in Ashe Street. They remained there, working amongst the Dublin people and in the surrounding districts, until the lease of their house expired and the landlord would not renew it. They then moved to a house in French Street (later called Upper Mercer Street) and built a chapel in Cuffe Lane close by. This was in 1806.
A Dublin youth, John Spratt, had, after being attracted to the Order at its Dublin chapel, gone to Spain and received the Carmelite habit in Cordova. When he returned, he came to the Dublin house, of which he was soon made prior. He set himself, like so many other Catholics at this time, to try to do something for the education of the children of the Catholic poor, and accordingly opened his first school in Longford Street in 1822. This was moved to a more spacious site in Whitefriar Street in 1824.
The Longford Street property had been part of medieval Whitefriars. Fr Spratt managed to acquire more of the old site. The Community moved to Whitefriar Street in 1825 and, a year later, the Archbishop of Dublin laid the foundation stone of the new church. The architect, George Papworth (1781-1855), was also the designer of Dublin’s St Mary's Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street, and of a number of large country houses in Ireland. Although an account of the new building remarked that “the whole expense is about £4,000; and proves how much can be done with small means, when taste and judgment are combined,” the debt was a heavy one for the Irish Carmelites.