West coast cool: Live it up in this former Mayo Hotel
Hotel was once a convent and coastguard station
If there's a place and time that epitomises the torment of living in close quarters with others, it must surely be the hotel dining room at breakfast.
Think of the reek of aftershave and rashers, the alternate gawping and whinging of other people's children, and the obligation to say 'Good morning' at all costs, allied with the dread that someone will take the 'Good morning' as a conversation starter.
The small, intimate country house hotel is the archetype. You can't avoid the other brekkie guests there, and what's worse, without being uncivil you probably can't avoid having them regale you with their golf stories at 8am.
Stella Maris, near Ballycastle, Co Mayo, has been a small, intimate country house hotel for 50 years, on and off. But it has an even longer history of accommodating people who might be happier if they didn't have to spend another second in each other's company.
Before it was a hotel, it was a convent, and before it was a convent it was a coastguard station. On the night of the 1901 census the divisional officer, five boatmen, six wives, 11 children and two servants were present - that's 25 souls.
Stella Maris is now for sale and is being described as a 12-bedroom country house. If someone buys it as a family home, they will have it all to themselves - all 9,182 sq ft of it - and not a sinner to steal the towels.
It's widely put about that it was built in 1856, although it couldn't have been, as the Board of Works architect, Enoch Trevor Owen, didn't sign off on the plans until 1871. It was bought by the current owners in the 1990s, having been a private house for several years, and they turned it into a hotel again after substantial repairs.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage is a bit sniffy about those repairs, going so far as to put the word "restoration" in quotes. "The substitution of much of the original fabric has not had a beneficial impact on the character or integrity of the building," they say. (You don't get much credit for saving a historic building from dereliction these days.)
How they'd expect anyone to make use of a coastguard building/convent without some serious changes is another question.
Externally it looks much the same as it did on Owen's drawings, and it still stares fixedly over Bunatrahir Bay towards Downpatrick Head, as if forever scrutinising the coast for miscreants.
One significant change is a 100ft conservatory running almost the whole width of the building on the eastern, seaward elevation. Doubtless it's a spectacular place to sit and enjoy a silent, uninterrupted breakfast, but if you're to do any justice to the beauty of the original structure, it will probably have to go.
The current owner is Frances Kelly, a native of Ballycastle who had been living in the US. She bought it with her American husband Terence McSweeney, who died last year after a 20-year career as an executive of the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA).
The golf connection is very much in evidence. The 12 bedrooms are named after famous courses - the St Andrew's, the Valhalla, the Pebble Beach and the Augusta, for instance, along with several in Ireland, including the Carne and the Enniscrone, two nearby links courses.
All of these bedrooms have sea views and all are en-suite. There are five in the three-storey south tower and six in the two-storey central part of the building. The north tower, meanwhile, is a self-contained apartment with a kitchen and living room on the ground floor, a bathroom on the first floor and a bedroom above that, in a top-floor eyrie with quaint oriel windows on three walls.
All the living areas are on the ground floor of the central block, giving onto the conservatory. There's an interconnected bar and sitting room, both with fireplaces and wood floors.
Next to the bar is the dining room, once four rooms and now all knocked through, which also has a wood floor and a central fireplace.
At the back, away from the views, is the commercial kitchen (off the dining room), an office and various stores. And behind the main building is a function room that's not in use - a function room with no function, if you like. The conservatory is in PVC and has a tiled floor, and there are French doors to a terrace out the front, where there's a strip of lawned garden and then, almost immediately, the sea.
The house is on two acres but there's not much else by way of garden apart from the lawn and a paddock out the back. There is, however, a very pretty little boathouse on the grounds, which might be converted into a den to retreat to, should you ever find yourself needing to get away from unwelcome guests again.
Stella Maris is just under three kilometres from the village of Ballycastle, on the north Mayo coast.
Ballycastle, Co Mayo
Asking price: €875,000
Agent: Savills (01) 663 4350