A community in shock will pull together for an appropriate, low-key ceremony
The garda investigation was complete, the crime-scene tape had been removed and the neat little bungalow in Cloneen, Co Tipperary, stood silent as before. In the backdrop, mist tumbled down the side of Slievenamon.
The tall grass in the front garden, beaten down during the search of the property, was the only outward sign of the frenzy of activity that had taken place in this tranquil part of the county over the past week.
On the doorstep was what appeared to be a bouquet of pink flowers, left by someone as a mark of respect.
The discovery of the bodies of the English couple who had slipped away unbeknown to the few people who knew them has shaken the community.
The forensic findings that Nicholas Smith (81) had died of natural causes and that the cause of death of his wife Hilary (79) was undetermined have not lifted their sadness.
Nor have they helped in any way to lift the community’s sense of powerlessness that they were unable to help a vulnerable and fiercely private couple in their hour of need.
Amid the garda search for relatives that has extended to the UK and Australia, the people of Cloneen are putting in place plans for their funerals, should that search turn out to be fruitless.
Last night, a small and subdued vigil was held in the village, with candles placed in windows throughout the locality.
Among those paying their respects were former publicans John and Monica Anglim.
A minute’s silence was also held during an under-age GAA match between Cloneen and nearby Mullinahone, appropriate since the Smiths’ home had been in the middle of both parishes.
Local councillor Mark Fitzgerald revealed that the community is in discussions to honour the Smiths in an appropriate way.
“We are taking the lead from the gardaí – we want to give them the time to see if they can find the family,” he said. “They deserve to be remembered with the due respect.”
Neighbours of the Smiths are in the early stages of putting a plan together to have a “whip round” to pay for the funerals, with some debate over whether it would be appropriate to have a big service given the private manner in which the couple had chosen to live.
They are also discussing the possibility of a cremation, with the ashes scattered in a private ceremony on Slievenamon, far from prying eyes.
That outcome appears increasingly likely as no trace of relatives has been found, a source said.
“They are originally from England, and after their bodies were discovered and their identities confirmed, the process of establishing next-of-kin began, but there has been no luck so far,” the source said.
It is understood both husband and wife had spent time working on cruise ships in the UK and Australia.
Following the completion of toxicology reports, gardaí have ruled out murder-suicide as a possible cause of death.
Post-mortem examinations have also discounted a suicide pact theory that was being actively investigated at one stage.
Like many localities throughout the country, the pandemic saw Cloneen bring in emergency measures to help the vulnerable and those who were cocooning due to age or ill-health.
The GAA had also stepped in to help with shopping deliveries, while local representatives on every road had delivered a leaflet with information on how to seek assistance and how to avail of the shopping drop-off service.
The local shop in Cloneen had an arrangement whereby a list of shopping could be pre-ordered and then loaded into a car boot on arrival, without the need for any human contact.
But it has emerged that the Smiths did not avail of these offers and continued to do their own shopping further afield.
When local representatives knocked on their window to check on their well-being, “sometimes they answered and sometimes they didn’t”.
“If you gave a knock on the window they didn’t always come out. That’s the way they were – you didn’t cross the boundary,” one neighbour said.
Local postmistress Deirdre Noonan said Mr Smith had frequently been in to post a package, while his wife had sat in the car.
Ms Noonan thought it was strange that over all the years he had lived in the area, he had always called her Jo Jo – a name she associated with missing woman Jo Jo Dullard from Callan, Co Kilkenny, around 20km away.
In the beginning, she had corrected him, reminding him that her name was Deirdre. However, he had continued to call her Jo Jo.
“I don’t know why he did it – I don’t know what was behind it. But in the end I gave up – if he wanted to call me Jo Jo, let him,” she said.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Smiths had made clear to the man who maintained their garden in Cloneen that they would not be coming out to say hello every time he arrived to cut the grass.
They had paid him up front to do the work for the year. When the money ran out, he continued to cut the grass for around six months, even though someone had told him he might never be paid.
He replied: “They are decent people, they’ll fix me up.”
Since the discovery of the Smiths’ bodies on Monday, another man from the area has died.
At his funeral, mourners spoke of little else other than the isolation that had surrounded the Smiths’ deaths.
“All they had was each other in this final chapter. We wouldn’t like to see anything like this happen again,” one man said.
“All the people around here are good neighbours, they are close – they wanted to do more for them.
“Unfortunately, people will blame themselves, but the neighbours shouldn’t doubt themselves – they were good neighbours.
“They knew their form and they didn’t want to intrude on their privacy.”