‘Burying my child with her father was a terrible mistake’

Mum’s appeal to bring body of Clarissa (3) to US for reburial
Martin McCarthy and wife Rebecca with their daughter Clarissa. McCarthy drowned Clarissa and then himself in March, 2013. The two were buried together in Schull, west Cork.

Martin McCarthy and wife Rebecca with their daughter Clarissa. McCarthy drowned Clarissa and then himself in March, 2013. The two were buried together in Schull, west Cork.

Ralph Riegel

A young American woman whose Irish husband drowned their daughter and then himself is raising funds to have her remains exhumed and transferred to the US for reburial.

Rebecca Saunders said that eight years ago “in a fog of grief and shock” she permitted her daughter Clarissa (3) to be buried “with the father she loved but who took her life from her”.

The Californian was 26 years old when her husband Martin McCarthy (50) drowned Clarissa at Audley Cove in West Cork on March 5, 2013.

Three days later the father and daughter shared a single coffin at a Requiem Mass at St Mary’s Church in Schull. They were then buried in an adjacent graveyard.

Ms Saunders wants to have the body of her daughter exhumed and returned to Texas where she now lives.

On ‘Clarissa’s Cause’ GoFundMe page – which has a €42,000 ($50,000) target – she said she is aware of the hurdles she faces but needs to undo “this awful mistake” of burying her child in Ireland.

She stressed she is “resolute” in having her daughter brought back to the US.

All funds not used in the process of exhuming Clarissa will equally be donated to Edel House in Cork which supports victims of domestic violence and Cork University Maternity Hospital Neonatal Unit.

“I really can’t say that I feel I will ever be able to forgive him. I feel like he used his daughter as a sword to stab me in the heart with. And I think that is very, very wrong,” she said.

“Clarissa and her father died on a Tuesday and they were buried on a Friday. In that small space of time I had to decide what happened to this little girl who was my world.

“The first thought that struck me in the shock that I was in was that I didn’t want her to be alone. The way his will was written it makes it very clear to me he had planned what he was going to do as a punishment to me. He spent at least a month (planning it).

“He started changing his will early February. I do think it was just a matter of time. He was given an opportunity that night and took it.”

The young mother said if she had been given another week to process what happened she wouldn’t have buried the pair together.

Cracks in the relationship began to emerge six months after their marriage in the summer of 2006. The pair met when she was a teenager and studying in Ireland – and there was a 24-year age difference involved.

Rebecca said her husband got into legal battles over land and became fixated on them. She felt that family life was non-existent as her husband was “obsessed” with his legal issues and his work as a farmer, leaving her and Clarissa “forgotten about”.

They sought marriage counselling and she said she made every effort to turn their relationship around.

On the night of the tragedy Rebecca had arranged to meet someone over legal aid. “He would lock himself in the parlour for hours with his legal cases or he would be out working. He became extremely angry and bitter.

“It was really sad to see Clarissa have to witness her father withdraw into himself.”

Ms Saunders has now remarried, has two children and lives in Texas. But she has never forgotten Clarissa.

Support of anyone suffering psychological distress can be found at: Samaritans at 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org; Console at 1800 247 247, or text Help to 51444; Aware at 1890 303 302, or Pieta House at 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie.

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