‘No words can explain it’

A father drowned his 3-year-old daughter before killing himself in an apparent murder-suicide as his marriage broke down, detectives believe.

The bodies of farmer Martin McCarthy, 50, and Clarissa were taken from shallow water in Audley Cove near Ballydehob in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Paramedics spent an hour trying to resuscitate Clarissa after her body was recovered from the sea before 2am as her mother was on the scene. Her father’s remains were found in shallow water nearby about 40 minutes later.

The remains were removed to University Hospital Cork, where assistant state pathologist Margaret Bolster carried out postmortems to determine the cause of deaths. It is understood a preliminary exam has found they died of drowning.

The horror unfolded around midnight when 26-year-old Rebecca McCarthy returned to the family’s rural farmhouse in Foilnamuck, Ballydehob, and discovered her husband and their only child were missing.

It is understood a note had been found at the property, possibly on the kitchen table, which sparked a search around the farm and nearby coastline.

Close friends of Martin McCarthy said the popular farmer had recently confided that he was experiencing personal difficulties. It is thought Rebecca, who is originally from America, had spoken about the possibility of moving back to the US.

The couple were married in Bantry in 2006 after they met while she was holidaying in Ireland. Locals said the family had appeared very happy and that both parents were devoted to their daughter.

The scene around the farmhouse and cove were sealed off as part of the Garda investigation, while the house remained empty as Rebecca McCarthy was being comforted by friends elsewhere.

A longtime friend of Martin McCarthy, Leslie Swanton said: “You can’t imagine what was going on at the time.”

He said he was “totally shocked”, adding that he had spoken to Martin the previous evening and describing Clarissa as “a great little girl”.

“I often chatted to her on the phone. No words can explain it. I feel very sorry for his wife Rebecca. I hope that our prayers will get her through it.”

Rebecca works in Goleen Post Office while Martin was described locally as a hardworking farmer. Both are popular in the community, with Martin even playing Santa Claus at Christmas in the parish hall.

Another visitor to the scene, Catherine Norman, said: “They are a lovely family and he is a very hardworking farmer. Nobody can say and nobody can judge.”

Long-time friend Paddy Sheehan, the former West Cork TD, said Rebecca was the love of Martin’s life. “She had been on a hiking holiday around Ireland and had arrived in West Cork. She strolled down the roadway to Foilnamuck in Ballydehob and came into Martin’s farmyard which was the family farm where he had been raised.

“Martin was in the parlour at the time and turned round to see her. He fell in love right away. I know they were always very happy together and their little girl was their pride and joy.”

Mr Sheehan said Martin was committed to his family, farming, and Fine Gael, and rarely took holidays.

“He was a great provider for his wife. I can say he was tremendously happy with married life but he did have a health scare in recent times.”

Ballydehob publican Pat Thomas said: “Martin was in last Thursday. He was always rushing. He came in for his dinner. He was a very quiet man, very calm.

“He recently had a health scare and was told to take it easy. He had an awful lot of work on and he continued to do it.”

A neighbour, who said he was one of Martin’s best friends, said: “He was a really hard worker but he took on too much. He was in and out of the Cork University Hospital with heart trouble several times over the past few months and the doctors told him to cut back on his workload.

“Martin said having little Clarissa was the best thing that happened to him. He was a confirmed bachelor farmer and he never expected to have a family.

“But he was a great father. He adored that little girl; she was the apple of his eye. They were inseparable. You would see the two of them driving through the town and in the countryside.

“I saw him last Monday and he definitely was not himself. He was out of sorts and appeared to be a bit jittery and excited. I really don’t think it was his health he was worried about. He told me he was having some problems but never went into the details.

“All I know is that he lived for his daughter, she meant everything to him.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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