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Liam Waterstone. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare characters captured in festival photo exhibition

A festival exhibition will feature portraits of Mountshannon people, one of whom has a tale to tell Dan Danaher

LIAM Waterstone still has a glint in his eye when he is asked about the intriguing story behind the stuffed trophy fish, which hangs proudly in a framed glass case at his Moutshannon home.

Back in 1997, the 66-year-old father-of-three prompted a manhunt when he decided to spend nine hours in the dark battling with a huge trout before it was eventually brought ashore on a light fly rod.

Oblivious to the consternation in the background, as local gardai, friends and neighbours searched the lake and pubs for his whereabouts, Liam explains he would have spent a fortnight in the boat trying to land this “fish of a lifetime”.

The well-known fisherman, publican, postman, and bed and breakfast operator, is one of the 12 members of the Mountshannon community, who are part of a photographic exhibition by Clare Champion award-winning photographer, John Kelly that can be viewed in Anita’s Mountshannon on Saturday, September 25 and Sunday 26.

This 1x1x2 Exhibition is a continuation of the project first begun in 2019, where our own John Kelly takes black and white portraits of 12 members of the local community.

The idea behind this project is to celebrate the diverse nature of the people living in the area, and to hear their stories.

Many have lived in the area all their lives, whilst others have come from further afield. For all of them, Mountshannon and its surrounds, is now their home.

This exhibition is part of the Mountshannon Arts Festival, which kicks off with “Spliced” in Whitegate GAA field this Saturday, September 18. A host of family fun entertainment has been organised and can be viewed at www.mountshannonarts.ie

Looking back at his major catch, Liam explains a lot of fishermen could fish for decades and never be fortunate enough to land a fish like it.

His trophy trout weighed seven pounds and two ounces. An average trout weighs about two pounds. A lot of trout that are being caught in recent times weigh about one pound.

The trout, which was hooked on May 20 at 8pm was finally brought ashore at 5am on May 21, 1997.

“It was an exceptional fish. That was the trout I wanted. It was my trophy fish and the only one I ever got stuffed. I was battling with it in the dark, in the middle of the night. We had no flash light.”

“I saw the trout coming in off the deep. I threw a bait at him and he took it. He leapt three times into the air and went back down to 70 or 80 foot of water. I couldn’t get him up.

“The line was very light. If it broke, he was gone. This was a fish of a lifetime. A friend went home and never told anyone we were stuck on a big fish.”

His sister, who was looking after his cancer-stricken wife got worried when Liam hadn’t come back at midnight, and went around local pubs looking for him. When she couldn’t find him, it prompted a panic, the launching of boats and a major search operation involved local gardaí.

At this stage, the huge trout had brought Liam and his friend, Eddie McCarthy on their boat about three miles across the lake as it swam along the bottom.

When people went to the spot he had left from to go fishing they couldn’t find him, which prompted an emergency call to the gardaí.

He explains all fishermen have to keep their fishing line taut because if it become loose, a fish can escape.

“Gardaí came out and found us at 4.30 in the morning. The guards had gone to all the pubs on the Tipperary side of the shore but couldn’t find us.

“They asked us why didn’t we cut the line and let off the fish. I told the guard ‘I would stay here for a fortnight until I got him (fish) home’.”

“We got a flash light off one of the guards. It was the first time I realised why lads poaching a river use light. The trout used to come up near the boat, but would then plunge back down again when he saw the boat.

“When the trout made a run along the side of the boat, we shone the light on him and he followed the light. When he came to the surface, he jumped into the net and that was the finish of it.

“He was a powerful fish with a strong tail. You just have to wait for him when you are using a fly rod. If I had a strong rod, I would have brought him in much quicker. You have to have patience for fishing.

“It was a huge trout to catch on a light fly rod,” he recalls.

Five or six years later when Liam was running the Bridge Bar in the village, two people arrived one night for dinner and saw the stuffed fish on display.
One man asked him, was this the fish that caused all the trouble a few years ago. Liam admitted it was. The man said, “we were the two gardaí that came out that night.”

“One of them was smiling at me. I said ‘ye weren’t smiling at me that night’,” said Liam with a big laugh as he recalls all the commotion the trout caused.

Liam started fishing at four years of age. During the annual May fly fishing season, he used to get days off from attending primary school to go fishing on the lake. He uses an 18 foot boat with a six horsepower engine at the back of it.

“I am fishing all my life, and I still enjoy fishing. I could go out on on the lake at 9am and stay fishing until 7pm in the evening. I could tour the whole lake. I know the whole lake inside out. I am on the lake since I was four years old.

“I know the depths of all of the lake in different places from old maps. I know where every rock is from Killaloe to Mountshannon and on to Scariff.

“I was one of the first to see the eagles on the lake. I brought out local photographer, Arthur Ellis on a boat, and he got beautiful photographs of the eagles. I knew the spot where the eagle was feeding that no one else knew at the time.

“A few years later, a new bird arrived on the lake an Egret, a sea bird that originated in Canada, which are like miniature swans. They were on the Shannon Estuary and now they have appeared on Lough Derg. They are breeding on the lake at the moment.

“It is so peaceful on the lake. Lough Derg is my favourite lake, I never get tired of it. I have gone to fish in other lakes.

“I love touring Lough Derg. If I catch a fish it is a bonus. Nowadays, it is all catch and release unless a friend of mine wants a trout,” he explains.

He recalls Lough Derg used to be full of salmon one time, but very few of them now get up past the dam in O’Brien’sbridge. Even when they arrive in the lake, they don’t stay.

Trout are difficult to catch because they swim very fast compared to roach or perch, which are much easier to land.

His passion for fishing isn’t just confined to the lake, as he collects old fishing rods, old baits, gear and has found some very rare hooks at antique fairs.

His grandfather, George used to make fishing bait. He had only a few of these special baits handed down by his father.

By coincidence, Liam met an old man in Ballina after a fishing competition who asked him to identify himself during a random meeting about ten years ago.

When Liam told him who he was, the following evening the man gave him a collection of old baits his grandfather made and had donated to him.

Liam wanted to buy them, but the man insisted he would only give them to him free of charge.

“The man said: ‘your grandfather gave me them baits when I had nothing. I couldn’t afford to buy a bait. I used them fishing all my life, and I am not fishing any more. I would love you to have them back’. I was delighted to get the baits back.”

Over the last year, he has noticed an increase in traffic on the lake, but this doesn’t bother him as boats and jet skis normally cruise around Mountshannon and Two Mile Gate, and stay away from bays he uses.

Lough Derg is a big lake, measuring about 17 miles long and five miles in width. There is 130 foot of water in the deepest part of it.

When the weather changes, Liam warns the lake can be dangerous. He always brings his mobile phone when he is fishing. He goes out against the wind to ensure it will be at his back in the event
his engine breaks down on his return home.

He was born in Mountshannon village near Keane’s pub in a dwelling where his brother, Caimin lived up to his untimely death last year.

Liam is one of the founding members of the Mountshannon Coarse Angling Club, which was reformed about 20 years ago. Mountshannon, Whitegate and Scariff anglers united to form an angling club.
However, Mountshannon broke away and started its own club following the infamous rod licence dispute.

At one stage he was also a member of the Tulla angling club, but isn’t a member of any club at the moment, and is happy to fish on his own or with friends.

A few weeks ago, he brought his young grandchildren who live in Kinvara for a “spin around the lake” with lifejackets.

Hurling was another consuming passion. He played between the posts for Whitegate GAA club for 14 years. In 1972, Whitegate won the U-21 “A” hurling championship, the Intermediate championship in 1984 , and two Intermediate leagues.

His son, George, who followed in his footsteps won two Intermediate hurling championships with the club. He was also a sub on the Clare panel, which won the All-Ireland U-21 hurling crown in 2012.

After attending Mountshannon National School, Liam went to Scariff Technical School, but he “didn’t stay too long as there was loads of work around at the time”.

His first job as a mechanic didn’t last a long time as he didn’t like it. A stint in the Finsa chipboard factory for a few years was followed by a job in McLysaght’s Nurseries in Tuamgraney before he became a postman in Ogonnelloe for 15 years.

In 1999, his first wife, Colette (40) from Scariff died after a five-year battle with cancer leaving him to look after their two daughters and son aged 12, 10 and eight.

“We had a good bed and breakfast business going at the time and Colette was running this enterprise. The six-bedroom house accommodated fishermen mostly.

“Chris Meehan was a very good man in Shannon Development at the time. He organised a lot of tourism trade fairs in Holland and Switzerland. We went out there and got an awful lot of business out of it. We brought over tour operators to our bed and breakfast and I got business for the next 15 years.

“Lough Derg was going a bomb that time. There were eight or nine bed and breakfasts and the hotel was going well at the time. Botcher’s caravan park was full as well. Fishing was going well in the seventies, eighties and nineties before the recession finished it. Now Mountshannon is only beginning to recover again.”

He hopes that Clare County Council’s purchase of Holy Island, and plans for a new visitor centre in the rectory should bring a lot of tourists to Mountshannon over the coming years.

Ambitious plans being drawn up include the construction of a new harbour in the village to facilitate ferry boats to Iniscealtra.

“This would be a huge boost to the area. In time, boat trips to the island could be organised from places like Killaloe and Dromineer. The only problem we have is we have no accommodation.

There are only two bed and breakfasts in the village at the moment. The closure of the local hotel was a big loss to the village.

“Anyone who comes in now there is nowhere to stay so they have to go to Scariff, Killaloe or Portumna. There is huge tourism potential from the lake.”

He is probably best known locally from the time he ran the Bridge Bar in the village and the bed and breakfast, which operated very successfully for decades from his current residence.

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