Reviews

“When we first wrote about Terence McSweeney and Frances Kelly’s country house, Stella Maris, way back in 2003 just after they opened, we predicted it would be one of the stars of the next ten years, Everything a great country house needed was in situ, most of all the dynamism of this talented couple. For once—once!—we were right. Stella Maris is today recognized as one of the best places to eat and stay in Ireland, and it has gained that reputation thanks to the devotion and discipline of this couple, a pair of fastidious hotel keepers.”

— The Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland

“Fortress-like sentinel of the sea on wave-swept Atlantic coast, complete with hand-chiseled gun holes. Glass conservatory for fishbowl views of Bunatrahir Bay. Simple organic approach to cooking, with food sourced from village butcher, organic gardens, free-range chickens. Sea-view rooms with power showers. Long summer days—it’s light until 11 p.m.—mean plenty of time for bird-watching, cycling, hiking, visiting nearby Ballycastle.”

—National Geographic Traveler, 2011Best Hotels in Ireland

“The Stella Maris ticks every box, whether you’re on a romantic weekend, family break or trying to write the great Irish novel. The long, white building was a 19th-century coastguard headquarters, so it faces out to the Atlantic, with stunning, scary views of Downpatrick Head. The addition of a 100ft-long conservatory allows you to admire that rugged view from a sunlounger. Food by chef proprietor Frances Kelly is imaginative French-meets-Irish, with locally sourced ingredients. There are just 12 rooms (€112.50pps), of which 10 are ocean facing, so book ahead and look forward to the full country-house treatment.”

— Irish Independent

“A simple, comfortable inn with a wonderful 100-ft conservatory running the full length of the house and overlooking the sea. Top place to ponder, read the papers, have a drink or afternoon tea. The bedrooms are equally cosy, and almost all have sea views and a careful selection of antiques. It is all very understated, very comfortable. Lovely bar and sitting room downstairs, although it is hard to stay out of the conservatory. Frances Kelly had worked in the catering industry for years in the U.S. but spent a year at a culinary institute to perfect her cooking before opening the hotel. ‘I wanted to make sure I had all the basics right – good stocks, for instance, which are so important, and baking techniques.’ She was clearly a good student.

—Irish Times

“Visitors tend to bypass Mayo, drawn instead by the call of rugged Connemara or the romance of WB Yeats country in Sligo. Neither is exactly overcrowded, but there is a particular sense of isolation about Mayo which experienced the highest emigration from Ireland during the Great Famine… One exile who did return is Frances Kelly, a Ballycastle woman who worked in the U.S. for 20 years. On a visit home with her American husband, she rediscovered Stella Maris, facing Bunatrahir Bay near her home village. It had been a convent, but was now in near ruin. The building has been restored as a luxury hotel with a 100ft conservatory facing the sea. Where better to enjoy the solitude of Mayo, listening to the waves crashing on the rocks below?”

— The Observer (U.K.)

“Ballycastle’s stunning Stella Maris Country House Hotel has put Mayo firmly on the map for discerning domestic and international tourists. The former coastguard station…is the only Mayo property to feature on the recently published National Geographic Traveller’s Best Hotels Stay List 2011. The National Geographic list, which is described as the ‘roster of authentic and unique places in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland,’ appears in the (April 2010) edition of the prestigious publication and the properties featured were selected from hundreds of nominees…Their appeal to National Geographic was the way in which places like Stella Maris Country House Hotel fully engage with their surroundings and tie into the community. Stella Maris owner/chef Frances Kelly explained that her culinary focus has always been to prepare traditional Irish food sourced from local producers. ‘To be cited for excellence by a global and well-respected publication such as National Geographic Traveller validates our commitment,’ she said.”

— Western People

“Originally a British coast guard station and later a nunnery, this grand old building has been successfully converted into one of Mayo’s finest lodgings. Rooms were designed with a nice complement of antiques and stylish modern furnishings, and the restaurant is top notch. The setting is what really sells it, though. It’s 2.5k outside the town, overlooking the ocean amid the rolling green hills and fields of sheep.”

— Lonely Planet Guide

“Hot Hotels…”

— Irish Times

“Bought as a near ruin, this 19th-century coastguard’s station in Ballycastle has been fully restored. The highlight is a 100ft conservatory facing the sea: all you hear is wind and waves. The hosts are convivial, and the cooking is accomplished.”

— The Sunday Times (U.K.): Ten hotels on the way up… the best emerging hotels in Britain (and one in Ireland)… Stella Maris Co. Mayo

“Stella Maris, smack on the ocean and somewhat closer to Carne and Enniscrone… The long and austerely graceful structure has an interesting history… Frances Kelly was born and reared in Ballycastle and as a teenager earned her spending money working at the hotel… Following a two-year renovation of this unique structure—twenty-four inch thick walls, Gothic arched windows, tiny gun turrets—they opened the doors of a stylish hotel.”

— Where Golf Is Great—The Finest Courses of Scotland and Ireland by James W. Finegan

“Ireland’s 2006 Hideaway of the Year

— Georgina Campbell’s Ireland: The Best of the Best

“Top 10 Splendidly Remote Destinations
Top 10 Great Coastal Getaways
Top 10 Places for Great Romance”

— Bridgestone’s 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland

“Frances Kelly and her husband Terence McSweeney have created a wonderful home at Stella Maris, and their hospitality is renowned. All eleven bedrooms are furnished with both antiques and modern pieces that blend to provide the very best in contemporary comfort. The long conservatory is the perfect venue for the pre-dinner drink, peruse the menu and watch the setting sun disappear below the horizon. Food features high on the list of great things about Stella Maris. Local produce, home cooked and perfectly presented, is complimented by service that is friendly and unfussy. We enjoyed local Ballycastle spring lamb, delicious Irish farmhouse cheeses, a large selection of perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables and a bottle of Casa Silva Chilean wine from a superior wine list. We slept the sleep of the well fed and contented! Next morning it was a long walk along the peaceful and secluded coast with just the birdsong for company as we stirred up an appetite for the best home-cooked breakfast we have come across for a long time. Everything cooked to order—no tired buffets here—Frances presents everything from the fresh fruit, natural yoghurt, home made potato rosti and free-range eggs with the kind of care usually reserved for close friends. mealtime at Stella Maris is a real treat…It is a rare treat that an area so rich in ancient history and natural beauty has a hotel such as Stella Maris. This is the place to stay and enjoy the solitude and beauty of the unspoilt North West coastline…Why stay here?

  • Tranquil Coastline Setting
  • Romantic Hideaway
  • Best Breakfast in The West Award

— HotelReviewsIreland.com

“Stella Maris, a beautiful place to stay, a great restaurant, and a wee town in the shape of Ballycastle; Stella Maris is at the heart of all the Mayo action. Stella Maris is well on course to fulfill its potential as one of the best new arrivals in Irish hospitality…Ms. Kelly shows some real style and attitude as a chef, and not just at dinner time either; the breakfasts here are amongst the best you can enjoy. The location of this old convent and school and fortress is simply magical and—can we confess this?—that on our last trip here we had that experience: Stella Maris, Polke’s bar, Munnelly’s bakery, Ceide Fields, the feathery rain, the searing sunshine, the immensity of the sea, the sheer bloody magic of it all. Quite wonderful.” Top 10 Best Places with Great Breakfasts and Top 10 Splendidly Remote Destinations

— The Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland

“Stella Maris has a fabulous location on the shores of Bunatrahir Bay where white topped waves cascade across the rocks and windswept sandy beaches stretch towards the rugged cliffs of Downpatrick Head. Built in 1853 as coastguard headquarters and later serving as a convent and a school, new life, as a boutique hotel, has been breathed into these sturdy buildings by Frances Kelly and Terence McSweeney. It’s a stylish place with a pleasing blend of traditional and modern décor. Quite the best place to enjoy the ever-changing seascape is from the conservatory built all along the front of the building to maximize the panoramic ocean views. Dinner is cooked by Frances and enjoyed in the dining room made up of four intimate little cottage rooms—then it’s back to the conservatory for coffee and drinks. Almost all of the bedrooms are ocean facing and come in queens and kings/twins all named after local and famous golf courses. The many miles of wild County Mayo coastline are yours to explore. Be sure to visit nearby Ceide Fields, an excavated Stone-Age settlement with walls older than the pyramids.”

— Karen Brown’s Guide To Ireland

“It was after one in the morning when we found the little town of Ballycastle and the turning to the Stella Maris Country House Hotel. In the sudden quiet, you could hear the tide whispering on the sand and smell the Atlantic swell somewhere in the dark down below…The Stella Maris, once a British Admiralty fortress, became a convent for the Sisters of Mercy in 1916. Now their cells have been converted into comfortable bedrooms and Mother Superior has been replaced by Terence McSweeney, the tall American, and Frances, his Irish wife, who designed the rooms. After hours in the murk, this warm, comfortable little hotel felt like a godsend.”

— The Financial Times, London

“Extensive renovations have restored the building to its original impressive condition and then some. The location is this hotel’s major asset and a conservatory built all along the front takes full advantage of it, allowing guests to relax in comfort and warmth while drinking in the majestic views of the surrounding coastline and sea. Accommodation blends style with comfort—uncluttered rooms furnished with antiques enjoy the best of both worlds, with modern bathrooms and power showers…conferred the Guide’s Irish Breakfast Award for Connaught in 2004. This is indeed a wonderful retreat.”

— Georgina Campbell’s Ireland, The Best Places to Eat, Drink & Stay

“Terence McSweeney and Frances Kelly’s lovely converted coast guard station has also seen action as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy and as a private home. But Stella Maris is in its glory period right now; this is a sparkling North West address, with all the potential to become a major player over the next few years. Ms. Kelly is charming, and an excellent cook—we haven’t forgotten a breakfast in Stella Maris that was one of the highlights of a Mayo sojourn—and her cooking has the right mix of technique, texture and taste to be wholly convincing. Best of all, nothing about Stella Maris is slick. Instead, it’s real, the hard work of two people who are working very hard indeed. We found it pretty darn difficult to drag ourselves away from Stella Maris, and the beauty of her surroundings, from sea to mountains, after a short stay; don’t make the same mistake.”

— The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide

“…delivered into the welcoming arms of Stella Maris Hotel in Ballycastle, where, also miraculously, the proprietor turned out to be an old friend and colleague, Terry McSweeney, former publications director for the PGA of America. The rascal had married an Irish girl, Frances Kelly, and the two of them had bought an old convent in Frances’ hometown and converted it into a stunning seaside hotel.”

— Links Magazine

“It’s not often that you stay for a few summer days at a hotel and spend a lot of winter actively looking forward to going there again. That happened to me, and it’s likely to happen to many of the guests who find their way to the Stella Maris Hotel… A long white building at the edge of a deeply sweeping inlet of the Atlantic, surrounded entirely, it seems, by sea, sky and rock. It is breathtaking and the feeling continues after you are led to your room and look at it all through your gothic pointed window. It’s like something out of one of those romantic novels set in Cornwall—truly a fantasy setting… You could opt to spend your time watching the sea from the conservatory at Stella Maris, just breaking the day with a trip to Mary’s Teashop and Bakery in Ballycastle or a pre-dinner drink at Polke’s behind the grocery store. Dinner, then, at Stella Maris’ restaurant—grilled prawns and scallops, perhaps, or an excellent steak… If you think you’ve sampled every kind of holiday the West of Ireland can offer, think again. Just try not to tell the whole world about it.”

— Ireland Farmer’s Journal

“Stella Maris is going to one of the stars of the next decade, thanks to an irresistible location—hard by the wild waters of Ballycastle in North Mayo—and thanks to the driven and meticulous nature of Frances Kelly, a local woman… The style of the house is understated, the hospitality is heartfelt and the cooking—by Ms. Kelly—is very fine indeed, a vibrant, unpretentious style of food that is accurately focused on the flavours of shellfish, local meats and some good sweet baking, all capably served by hip young locals who enjoy their work.”

— The Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland

“If you sometimes hanker after the rugged beauty of the north-west, this is the spot for you. The unspoilt village of Ballycastle is a little gem, with Polke’s immaculate grocery-pub and Mary’s Bakery and Tea Rooms, as well as all that magnificent scenery, it is definitely ‘vaut le detour.’ And, as if that isn’t enough in itself, there’s fine dining and wonderful accommodation, too, just beyond the village at the Stella Maris Hotel. Dinner… is a very enjoyable experience. Next morning, carefully prepared breakfasts set you up for a day of exploring this gloriously unpeopled area.”

— Food & Wine Magazine (Ireland)

“Stella Maris, an upscale, completely renovated boutique hotel on Bunatrahir Bay owned by Terry McSweeney, the former sportswriter and PGA executive, and his lovely Irish wife, Frances Kelly. McSweeney traded the rat race for tranquility in a palace.”

— Golfweek (USA)

“A stellar retreat. It was once a desolate coast guard station, but now the Stella Maris in Ballycastle is an upscale boutique hotel… where guests can come for quality food, accommodation and above all, relaxation. Its décor is tastefully completed with antique furniture but its authenticity is not at the expense of modern day requirements such as high pressure showers. Their restaurant serves up a traditional Irish menu with everything created from scratch. Fresh bread is baked every morning (and) fresh produce is sourced locally… reservations are a good idea.”

— Mayo News

“An impressive seaside building in North Mayo that was once used to watch the coast and to protect us from invaders, has now been beautifully converted to entice visitors to our shores…Stella Maris, which is Latin for Star of the Sea, provides a warm and luxurious environment for golfers who wish to experience nearby oceanfront golf at its finest.”

— Western People