Tipperary deaths: ‘They made it clear from the outset they didn’t want to be invited in for tea’

Gardaí await postmortem results to determine how couple whose remains were undiscovered for months died

The news that an elderly couple may have lain dead and undiscovered in their home outside a small village in south Tipperary for more than 18 months might on the face of it suggest the rural Ireland of Brinsley McNamara’s famed Valley of the Squinting Windows is dead and gone.

The image of rural Ireland portrayed by McNamara in his 1918 novel was one where everyone knew everyone else’s business so to learn that nobody in Cloneen in south Tipperary knew that Nicholas and Hilary Smith had died might suggest Ireland has morphed into a world of privatised anonymity.

But to do so would be unfair as so much about the tragic death of the retired English couple remains shrouded in mystery, with speculation and conjecture flourishing in an unavoidable void as gardaí await examination results to try to establish what exactly happened to the reclusive couple.

The Smiths bought their 20-plus-year-old modern bungalow at Rossane, some four kilometres from the small village of Cloneen near Fethard, about 10 years ago and, by all accounts, kept the house and garden neat and tidy while also keeping very much to themselves.


Located down a boreen that serves as a back road to Mullinahone, the Smiths’ bungalow nestles in the shadow of Slievenamon, of well-known ballad fame, which looms against the skyline to the south and on whose slopes dark patches of conifers vie with more verdant patches of pastureland.

It is remote but it is not isolated with, perhaps half a dozen houses within 250m either side, but such is the nature of modern rural Ireland that not every resident is home by day as The Irish Times discovered when it called to two houses only to get no response to ringing bells or rapping knocks.

A farmer driving an old Massey Ferguson with a round bale of hay speared on a protruding fork scurried by, saluting the attendant press corps and the gardaí preserving the scene, while less than a kilometre away two farmers chatted by the roadside.

Life continues all around here but if somebody wants to remove themselves from the normal interactions that happen each day in countryside and city, then they are respected, and people do not pry or intrude – as one neighbour explained when asked about the Smiths.

“They moved here maybe 10 years ago, and they kept very much to themselves – they were always polite and friendly in that they would say hello and wave at you if you saw them on the road, but they made it clear from the outset they didn’t want to be invited in for tea – they were very private.”

While it may seem extraordinary that a couple could be deceased for so long without being noticed in a community where ostensibly everyone knows everyone, local Fine Gael councillor Mark Fitzgerald said a couple of factors needed to be considered that might explain how the tragedy went unseen.

“Unfortunately, it’s painted a picture of our area that isn’t accurate because we are a very close-knit community – we all try to pull together but the fact they were a very private couple, who kept very much to themselves, meant that not much was known about them locally, so that’s one factor.

“The second thing that comes into play was when they contacted a number of people in the area to say they were moving out of the area, their word was taken at face value, so people thought that they had moved away and then you had Covid, so people were keeping to themselves anyway.

“This is a huge tragedy for the couple but it’s just a pity the way the news broke and as much as there is sadness at what happened, there is also sadness in the way that it has been portrayed on social media because anyone living in this community will always say this is a lovely part of the world.

“We always look after each other and do our best for each other but this is just one sequence of events where a couple kept to themselves and let it be known that was what they wanted and when they said they were moving away, it led to the assumption there was nobody living in the house.”

“This is a small rural community and unfortunately it isn’t the first time that you have scenarios like this unfolding in rural Ireland – people see it in the news, but you never expect the camera crews [to] roll into your own village and you never expect it to come to your own door – it’s just very, very, sad.”