The Dominican priory of Naas, founded in 1356, was the twenty-eighth foundation of the Dominican Order in Ireland. Earlier foundations included Dublin and Drogheda (1224), Kilkenny (1225), Waterford (1226), Limerick (1227), Cork (1229) and Athy (1257). The Naas priory was founded by the Norman family of FitzEustace and was, as a result, dedicated to Saint Eustace. The legend of Saint Eustace recounts how the saint was converted to Christ when the stag he was hunting stood at bay before him with a crucifix between its antlers. This motif appears on the sanctuary lamp in the present church and on the College coat of arms. The Eustace family had extensive lands in the area and are associated with Ballymore Eustace, Martinstown and Harristown.
The priory was suppressed in 1590 and between that date and 1640 few records survive, though it is known that the friars remained in the area. There was a Dominican presence in Naas in 1641 – as we know from the story of Blessed Peter O’Higgins. Even after the Cromwellian occupation had begun and conditions had become precarious, the Dominicans did not leave, at least not until the general exile of 1698 when all bishops and religious were banished under pain of death.
The Penal Laws were enacted in 1690 and were rigorously enforced for some fifty years. However, by 1750, the friars began to work again, more or less openly. While there may have been some small communities of friars in the cities, in the country the friars lived alone. In 1782 the Penal Laws were officially revoked, but there were to be no new friars. We have some certain dates from this period:
1720: A Dominican Provincial Chapter was held in Dublin, at which the priory of Naas was represented.
1731: The Dominicans of Naas were living in a house of refuge at Yeomanstown, near the village of Caragh.
1756: Six friars were assigned to (officially belonged to) the Naas community, though in fact only one lived there.