EVERY family has a favourite seaside location. For many Limerick families, it’s Lahinch, Kilkee, Doonbeg, or Ballybunion, and while their respective merits can be debated, what counts over their physical attractiveness is the nostalgic childhood memories that have been ingrained over time.
For the Corbett family from Janesboro, Spanish Point was their place. It still is, except they are reluctant to return, in fear of another wave of emotions and memories which could wash over them.
Spanish Point was also Jason Corbett’s “favourite place in the world”; a bolt-hole away from the rest of the world, especially after his beloved wife Mags died tragically in 2006. It was here they wed, at the Star of the Sea church in nearby Quilty.
“That’s the place we always went to as children on our summer holidays,” says his sister Tracey Lynch, now the guardian of his two children, Jack and Sarah.
“My mother would go down while Dad worked during the week. We’d only be going for two weeks, and my mother would somehow get money to stay another week, and another week.
“We just spent our summer playing, swimming and fishing. It was very close to all our hearts and we continued to go down there all our lives together. We’ve always gone there. It holds lots of great memories but at the moment I feel it will be a long while before I go back.”
It was while on holiday in France this summer that Tracey and her husband David learned of Jason’s death.
August 2 is now a date imprinted in their minds for all the wrong reasons; the date he was killed thousands of miles from his real home, in the home of his second wife, Molly Martens, in North Carolina. It is believed he sustained head injuries after being struck with a baseball bat.
Tracey and David were at the time looking ahead to a new future, daydreaming about the holiday home they might retire to, “in a kind of fantasy that you do in thinking about the future”.
But all thoughts of that idyllic future were brutally thwarted when they got the phone-call about Jason.
Now the future isn’t so certain, the daydreams have been put on hold, and the reality is caring for Jason’s two children – whilst grieving his untimely death, and trying to ensure that someone is brought to justice for his killing.
Thoughts of retiring to France are “way, way off in our future now”, says Tracey. “Our emphasis is on our children.”
Their eldest son Dean, 24, is now in college in Cork, and in Limerick they have their son Adam, 14, along with Jack, 11, and Sarah, age nine, merging together to form “a new family structure” and a new future, that none of them had foreseen.
“I’m really proud of the kids,” said Tracey, speaking exclusively to the Limerick Leader, in the first in-depth interview she has given since their return from the States. “They’ve all done so well. It’s a really positive environment in our house. It’s happy most of the time, but we still miss Jason terribly, so obviously that shadow is always there.
“Jack and Sarah have the bonds formed [with us] from when they were babies and all through their lives. It’s really just picking up really where they left off from when they moved over to America. They’re doing really well. They are settled well in school. They’ve a huge network of friends and they are just so resilient. They are really good. They’re very courageous and it’s awesome to see how well they do, and it gives you some strength as well to cope with the different challenges we’re facing.”
Tracey’s husband, David, agrees. “It was an easy transition for them in one way. They were coming back to people they knew.”
From the moment of their births, the lives of both families had been closely intertwined.
On one of his last trips home, Jason shared his Tracey one of his own dreams – of opening a Dominos in Spanish Point. It was not one of his better ideas, she concedes, but even in the bleakest of moments it still causes her to laugh.
“We would have gone over a lot to America,” she continued, “and Jason would have been back. In August 2014, he came for a couple of weeks on his own with the kids, and just last Christmas for another couple of weeks so we really kept up the contact with each other going over and back.
“Jason came back on his own quite often as well. His heart never really left Limerick. He formed some really good friendships in America, but always missed Limerick. He was a real Limerickman – loved the rugby, loved the golf.”
Asked about the affects his death has had on them, and the myriad of other ramifications it has impinged on their lives, Tracey pauses for thought and struggles to find the right words.
“I don’t think I can put it into words the impact that something like this can have on your life. But you certainly find a strength that you never thought you would have to help you cope. We all had extremely close relationships with Jason. The loss has just been so difficult for us. I find it hard to articulate how difficult it has been and the impact it has had on every facet of our lives, down to how we live on a day by day basis.”
David adds that while circumstances are difficult at the moment, he “couldn’t imagine what it would be like without having the two kids with us, as Jason wanted.”
The thought of not having Jack and Sarah, two bright-eyed and happy young kids inspite of what they’ve been through in their short lives to date, is inconceivable.
It was pre-destined that if anything should happen to Jason and Mags that the kids would be taken care of by Tracey and David given the closeness of both couples.
“Jason lived with us when he was 18, when we had got married,” explained Tracey.
“When he met Mags, everyone knew that was it. It was love. They talked very much before they had kids about the future, and we discussed the scenario that if anything happened any of us we’d look after each other’s kids. After Mags died Jason put his will in place. We talked about it up to recently before he died what his wishes were, so we had no doubt whatsoever in what he wanted. He left Limerick, but his heart never left it, and he always wanted to raise the children in Ireland.”
Apart from the shock and the grief in coping with Jason’s sudden death, the couple’s trauma was over-ridden for a time with a more immediate concern - gaining custody of Jack and Sarah, now left without both their biological mum and dad to care for them.
Molly Martens Corbett, Jason’s second wife, had been a nanny to the children before she and Jason wed and moved to America. In all, she has cared for the children for some eight years and continues to post daily updates on Facebook, along with her email address and phone number, in an attempt to gain contact with the children.
While the public displays of affection for the children are very evident, she has never spoken of the loss of Jason publicly, or posted a picture including him in the endless tributes of her love for his offspring. That same affection, Tracey says, was never afforded to her family after Jason’s death.
Now, Molly is a ‘person of interest’ in the case, alongside her father Thomas, 65, a former FBI agent, though that does not necessarily mean they are chief suspects.
Back home, momentum was building with various public appeal funds to aid with their mounting legal costs, campaigns seeking to bring justice for Jason, and to bring Jack and Sarah home. David said it was the people of Limerick who gave them strength to cope during those dark and difficult days, in the States. “We were somewhat isolated, there was only four or five of us there, but to be able to see and read about the support in Limerick spurred us on as well.”
“It was unbelievable,” says Tracey. “There was one particularly difficult day, after one of the court hearings, and the candlelit vigil was on in Limerick and we had kind of heard something was happening.
“Somebody sent me a link to watch it, and the five of us were in the hotel room, huddled around my iPhone watching it. We were all so moved and emotional. There was lots of tears, because you feel completely lost, in a strange country, where the law is very different. It gave us huge confidence and comfort.”
“When we saw that,” David added, “the hundreds of people in Limerick, it just spurred us on that we were doing the right thing.”
As someone who works in the community and voluntary sector, Tracey said she often sees the people pulling together, and supporting each other in times of need. But nothing like this.
“To have people come and do that for us, when you need it most, and we certainly needed it, it made all the difference in the world. That support is still there from people in many different ways, from the fundraisers who have helped us offset some of the costs, the letters and messages of support, my work colleagues, we are just so grateful.
“It’s very hard to thank people enough for what they’ve done for my family and I. We’ll be forever grateful. We wouldn’t be able to have Jack and Sarah without all the support that we have had.”
David says he believes the support they received is also a reflection on Jason as much as thing else.
“He touched a lot of people’s lives. He had many colleagues here and in the US that were friends.”
“He believed in people and believed in supporting people,” added Tracey.
“He was a great leader, he was inspiring. He really took time with people and empathised with people’s personal experiences.
“I suppose his own experiences and losses in life really gave him a better understanding of human nature.
David noted that after Mags died, he threw himself into charity work and raised money for the Asthma Society, “to try to give something back. He raised something like €30,000 in a very short space of time. He was always looking to see what he could do for other people.”
The couple spoke to the Leader, which was the only media organisation permitted at a private family event in City Hall, where the metropolitan mayor, Cllr Jerry O’Dea, presented the family with copies of the book of condolences in Jason’s memory, which he hopes “may ease their pain in the years ahead”.
The first online book of condolences opened by the council, it contains more than 1,200 signatures from people in Limerick, across the country and as far afield as Australia.
“The amount of beautiful and heartfelt messages in the book of condolences show how his story has evoked such empathy from the people of Limerick and further afield,” said Tracey.
The coming weeks will bring further challenges and potential upsets, not least because they are awaiting news from the US on whether anyone is likely to be charged with Jason’s death.
What’s meant to be one of the happiest times of the year can also be one of the most painfully sad and lonesome.
A world away from the Christmas lights and drinks and festive cheer, a family will be silently grieving whilst trying to put on a brave face.
The thoughts of Christmas doesn’t fill the couple with joy. Instead, they are trying to steel themselves to prepare for it.
“We’re only beginning to, because of the kids, talk about Christmas and what we’ll do. This year is going to be very difficult but we’re going to spend it together as a family so we’ll do our best.
“The kids are the most important thing, and we’ll give them as good a Christmas as they should have..most importantly it will be filled with love.
“We want justice for Jason. He has lost all opportunity of the life he should have had. His children have been left orphans and will never have their daddy to guide them through life. Sarah can never have her daddy walk her up the aisle when she marries. We have all lost so much and are trying to come to terms with never seeing Jason again.”