2021 marks the 750th anniversary of the arrival of the Carmelite friars in Ireland. The earliest contemporary reference to the presence of Carmelites in this country occurs in 1271 when a letter of protection was granted for five years to ‘brothers of the order of the Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel in Ireland’. Their first friary was built on the right bank of the Barrow river at Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, close to the Black Castle on a site granted by the Carew family.
The Black Castle, now in ruins, dominates the river. It was an Anglo-Norman fortress built in the previous century. It is likely that the first Carmelites in Ireland were Normans from the Carmelite Province of England. They would have had a rather perilous existence at Leighlinbridge, ministering to the peoples on both sides of the river, the Normans and the Irish.
In 1273 a foundation was made in the now Whitefriar Street area of Dublin, and by the early sixteenth century there were twenty-five friaries throughout the country. However, most of these foundations did not recover from the suppressions of the Reformation and Cromwellian periods.
A revival of the Order in Ireland began in the latter half of the eighteenth century. By 1827 a chapel, designed by the noted architect George Papworth, was built at Whitefriar Street at the site of the pre-Reformation friary. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Irish Province began to make a significant contribution to the spread of the Order worldwide, by sending friars to Australia (1881) and New York (1889) and re-establishing its presence in Britain (1926). All of which are now provinces in their own right.
In 1946 a mission was started in Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) where there is now a growing Carmelite presence with seven communities. Currently there are eight communities in Ireland. We look forward to exploring and celebrating different aspects of the Province’s history over the next year.