Inquest hears of West Cork drowning tragedy

Note found after father and three-year-old daughter went missing from family home in West Cork

A 50-year-old farmer chose to end his own life and drowned his 3-year-old daughter in the sea near their family farm outside Ballydehob in West Cork, an inquest heard today.

Martin McCarthy left a note in the dairy of his farm at Foilnamuck, Ballydehob on the evening of March 5th 2013 and although the note wasn't read out at yesterday's inquest into his death and that of his daughter, Clarissa, it could not be ignored, Coroner for West Cork, Frank O'Connell revealed.

“I believe the evidence is that for whatever reason, Martin McCarthy decided to end his life and he took Clarissa with him and they both drowned in the implementation of that decision,” said Mr O’Connell.

Mr McCarthy's Californian-born widow, Rebecca (26) had returned from the US to Bantry for today's inquest and she listened intently as Supt Mick Fitzpatrick read out her statement, detailing how she returned home to discover her husband and daughter were missing.


She had come home to the farm at 8.30pm on the evening in question and when she could find no trace of her husband or daughter, began ringing his mobile only to discover it was in his jeep so she began contacting friends and neighbours who came and began searching the farm.

The inquest heard how Mr McCarthy's friend and best man at his wedding, Alan Hurley found a note in an envelope marked 'Rebecca' which he and his brother Daniel read before handing it to Garda Batt Duggan who asked both Mr McCarthy's sister, Hester and Ms McCarthy to confirm it was his writing.

“They (the gardaí) asked me did I want to read it - I got upset and I skimmed through it and then I got upset more and they said that it was just a note and we didn’t know if it was acted upon or not,” said Ms McCarthy in her statement.

She told how she had gone down to nearby Audley Cove, less than a minute's walk from her home, to watch members of the Irish Coastguard Goleen Cliff and Coastal Rescue Unit and Schull Fire Brigade and volunteers search the shoreline and she was there when they found Clarissa at 1.50am.

“I went over to these little rock at the head of the beach and I got this little rock that she (Clarisssa ) liked and I began squeezing it ... then three guys from the Inshore Rescue came around the rocks and found Clarissa and they brought her a bit more out of the water and began working on her.”

Ms McCarthy told how she was restrained by friends as she tried to run over to her daughter where members of the Goleen Cliff and Coast Rescue under Michael O’Regan spent a long time trying to resuscitate her before some HSE paramedics took over and worked on the child for a long time.

She began to feel faint but a friend of hers told her she needed to remain strong because she thought that the medics had got a pulse and she was about to go into the ambulance with Clarissa when a doctor arrived, checked on the little girls and told her that Clarissa was dead.

She later learned that her husband had been recovered some 15 minutes later and several hundred yards around the coast from where Clarissa had been found and he too was pronounced dead at the scene by a local GP, the inquest heard.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster said that both Mr McCarthy, who was found to have a blood alcohol concentration of 204mgs per 100ml, and Clarissa had died from acute cardio respiratory failure due to drowning. She found no evidence of Clarissa being restrained.

When Mr O’Connell suggested it would appear that Mr McCarthy may have held his daughter under the water, several members of the public took issue with him - with one woman, Josie O’Driscoll, saying she believed that he had walked into the sea with Clarissa in his arms.

Mr McCarthy’s close friend, Alan Hurley said that Mr McCarthy loved Clarissa dearly and that he wouldn’t hurt an animal and others expressed similar sentiments whereupon Ms McCarthy’s mother, Linda said that Mr McCarthy had killed Clarissa and she and her daughter walked out.

Another friend of Ms McCarthy - who didn’t identify herself - said that if Mr McCarthy had survived the incident, he would have been charged with murder and Mr O’Connell said that ,while there was no eye-witnesses to what happened, Mr McCarthy did leaving a note stating what he intended to do.

He returned verdicts that both Mr McCarthy and Clarissa died from cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning and that in the case of Mr McCarthy it was self-inflicted while in the case of Clarissa, she was taken into the water, became unconscious and drowned.

Mr O’Connell extended his sympathies to Ms McCarthy and her relatives, Mr McCarthy’s sister, Hester and her family, saying it was a terrible tragedy while he also paid tribute to the local community for their support and sympathy with the family at the time of the tragedy.

Afterwards Ms McCarthy's solicitor, Martin Harvey said Ms McCarthy wanted to thank all those who assisted on the night as well as the local community for their support.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times