US woman seeks to exhume daughter’s body from Cork grave

Martin McCarthy walked into sea carrying three-year-old daughter Clarissa in 2013

Rebecca Saunders and Clarissa. File photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Rebecca Saunders and Clarissa. File photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision


An American woman whose Irish husband took his life and that of their three-year-old daughter eight years ago has said she made a “grievous mistake” in allowing them to be buried together.

Rebecca Saunders has begun a campaign to exhume the body of her daughter Clarissa, who was buried with her father Martin McCarthy in west Cork.

In March 2013 Mr McCarthy walked into the sea at Audley Cove, a beach below his farm outside Ballydehob, carrying his daughter and drowning them both.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live on Monday, Ms Saunders, who has remarried, said she wanted to have her daughter’s body exhumed so she could bring her home to the United States, where Ms Saunders lives with her husband and two daughters.

‘Small amount of closure’

“I know that exhuming her is not going to bring her back to me, but it will be some small amount of closure,” she said. “There will be some small amount of closure that I no longer have to think that she’s in the arms of that monster.”

Ms Saunders had met Mr McCarthy in 2004 when she came to Ireland aged 16 for eight weeks. Mr McCarthy was 42 at the time. The pair became engaged, but Ms Saunders returned to the US. However, she came back to Ireland two years later and they married, against her family’s wishes.

Three years later Clarissa was born, but the marriage fell apart and Ms Saunders sought a divorce.

Ms Saunders said a note left by Mr McCarthy indicated her decision to seek a divorce had precipitated his actions in killing himself and their child.

“It explained that because of my actions, because of wanting a divorce this was all due to my decision of my wanting to, as he saw it, take Clarissa away from him and dissolve the marriage,” she said.

“His last line on that letter was that ‘you will never forget this day’ and that has definitely been the case, and once I read that note that’s when I fell into shock… I told the guards that the Coast Guard needed to be called out.”

She described the discovery of her daughter’s body.

“I saw this movement to the right of the beach and it was two men, ran down to the water and there she was, she was coming in on the tide… she still had her hat on… It just felt like it was eternity, and you know during that time, time stood still.”

She said that at the time of the tragedy she had agreed to Clarissa being buried with her father, because she had not realised the extent to which Mr McCarthy had planned his actions, and she did not like the thought of her daughter being alone.

“I didn’t realise just how sinister Martin’s plan was and how much in advance he had planned out what he carried out that night, so I thought to myself if she had a choice she would want to be buried with her father, even though he did what he did because she would still love him.”

However, she felt she had made a mistake and now wants to bring her daughter’s body to the US.

‘Grievous mistake’

“Ever since Clarissa’s casket was closed and she was lowered down into that grave, I just felt like I had made a very grievous mistake. And while I understand the reasons why I decided what I had decided eight years ago, certain circumstances were brought to light that made me realise just how involved Martin’s plan was and I feel like, I feel like burying them together was a huge mistake,” she said.

“I feel like I essentially abandoned her because I am not there anymore and the grave and where she’s buried and how she’s buried and who she’s buried with, just gives me a great deal of stress,” she said. “I would sleep better, I would be able to function better if I was able to take her home with me.”