Built in mid 1800’s, Stella Maris was designed and constructed as a Coast Guard Headquarters by the British, who ruled Ireland until 1921. The building was one of several British Admiralty buildings which dotted the coast of Ireland, built on the best land with commanding views overlooking various bodies of water that surround Ireland. Her gun turrets—small holes cut out of hand-carved stone—still guard Bunatrahir Bay to this day.
Circa 1916, the Coast Guard fortress was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy, who named the building appropriately Stella Maris, which is Latin for “Star of the Sea.” The Sisters of Mercy used the building as their home while they taught school in the town of Ballycastle, less than two miles away, riding back and forth each day on a horse-drawn cart. They would later create a space at Stella Maris, where they taught lace making and music.
Circa 1960, a new primary school was built in the village of Ballycastle, much closer to the parish church. Subsequently, the Sisters of Mercy acquired a new space through the purchase of a former hotel in the village. The church sold Stella Maris to Annie and Frank Whelan, who turned the old Coast Guard bastion into a small country hotel. Thus, the hotel in the village became a convent and the convent down by the ocean became a hotel.
Back in the mid-1960s, Stella Maris was the center of community life in this part of rural County Mayo, the monument to all that was important in this ruggedly beautiful area in western Ireland. Stella Maris hosted baptisms, weddings and all manner of social events for communities within 50 miles of Ballycastle, Co. Mayo. Stella Maris brought life and laughter to thousands of people who passed through its impregnable stone walls.
Stella Maris provided a mesmerizing view of the Atlantic Ocean, which millions of Irish men and women had crossed to find a more fruitful life in the United States. Through the ’60s and ’70s, though, Stella Maris provided a focal point for those locals who now stayed locally on the West Coast of Ireland.
For many years, the Whelan Family operated Stella Maris as a family-run hotel. Countless guests would flock to the quaint hotel to immerse themselves in the peacefulness and beauty surrounding the area.
By the late ’70s and early ’80s, Frank and Annie Whelan’s family were moving on and starting their own families. After young Mary Whelan married Frank Finnerty, they turned Stella Maris into a private oceanfront home. Mary and Frank decided to sell Stella Maris, retaining a piece of the land on the hill behind the original structure to build their own home
Frances Kelly returned to Ballycastle with her American husband, Terence Mc Sweeney, and learned Stella Maris was for sale. After having spent many summers days and nights at Stella Maris as a young girl, Frances was familiar with the property, though she had not toured the entire building for many years.
Frances and Terry purchased the unique property with the intent of creating a welcoming & comfortable environment for a choice clientele who would appreciate the solitude and tranquility that North Mayo offers. In June 2000, the renovation to once again breathed life into the hand-carved stone of Stella Maris was begun. Almost two years later, Stella Maris Country House Hotel would reopen her doors to guests on a seasonal basis: May through September each year.