Not a day went by when Frances Kelly wondered what she had created for herself. In her “Wellies” (Wellington boots), sweatshirt and hardhat, Frances worked with engineer Michael Conmy, contractor Richard Tomas and a team of workmen to denude Stella Maris, a 150-year-old tribute to architecture, design and inexpensive labor. The former Coast Guard fortress—and later convent and small hotel—is located just outside the village of Ballycastle on the picturesque Wild Atlantic Way along the west coast of County Mayo, Ireland.
Frances worked on the project for more than four years, identifying engineers, architects, contractors, vendors and bankers to bring this immense project to fruition. While residing and working in the United States, Frances spent summers in Ireland culling the resources necessary to renovate a building that was constructed prior to the U.S. Civil War. The ’H’ shaped structure—three-story towers on either end flanking the two-story building—has survived 160 years of pounding Atlantic surf, lashing rain and hurricane-force winds.
With exterior walls that vary from 18 to 36 inches in width, Stella Maris was built for an eternity. While this makes the building structurally sound, it also provided a unique set of challenges for renovation. Most interior walls featured fireplaces, which made them part of the internal support structure. In many cases, fireplaces were salvaged, though in some instances it was not feasible. Where there were once 19 bedrooms and several bathrooms—none together—there are now 11 luxury en-suite rooms and one three-story suite with wondrous views of Bunatrahir Bay and Downpatrick Head, one of the “Discovery Points” of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Interior walls were modified to accommodate a hallway running the length of Stella Maris in the rear of the building to provide most guestrooms with ocean views. In the original structure, a hall ran along the front of the building to allow Coast Guards to race along from one end to the other in the event of attack. (The only known attack in Bunatrahir Bay is by schools of frolicking dolphins, which occasionally flock to the bay in the summer months.)
The windows throughout Stella Maris are unique. Stone arches form the Gothic windows, for which hand-tooled window frames were created. To maintain the original appearance of Stella Maris, custom windows were hand-built to replace the originals. Wherever possible, the integrity and character of the original building was maintained without sacrificing comfort and safety in the quaint hotel.