I moved house just before the pandemic struck, returning to Dublin after 20 happy years in Meath. I left behind good friends, hobbies and organisations I was a part of.
I’ll be honest – it’s been difficult making new friends, with the last two years a write-off.
I don’t have a ‘school gate’ any more, and the fundraisers, committees and local events took a hit. But I’m willing to try, and getting to know locals is a little easier now.
What if, though, I was a different kind of person? Someone who was nervous about new people or socially anxious or exceptionally introverted?
What if I could hardly bear the idea of walking in somewhere on my own, desperate to see a friendly face but mortified if none were there?
What if I was someone who had nothing in common with neighbours? Or if I was someone for whom passing the time of day or engaging in small talk was a worrisome thing to do, something I wasn’t used to, or didn’t enjoy?
What if, instead of moving county, I had moved country and culture?
For Nicholas and Hilary Smith, the elderly English couple whose bodies were discovered, tragically, in Tipperary earlier this month, having lain undiscovered (it is suspected), for at least a year, the sadness is compounded by the fact that it has proven difficult to find anybody, family or friends, who might have missed them, or can give them a proper burial.
Enquiries have been made as far afield as France and Australia in the hopes that somebody – anybody – can claim them.
One report suggested Mr Smith had a brother living in the UK, but they hadn’t spoken in decades. Another said the extremely private couple had paid a gardener to cut their grass with a year’s payment in advance. He did so diligently, and continued even when the advance ran out.
Locals – who in a rural village may reasonably be expected to not only know everyone in the vicinity, but also their entire families and back stories – had long decided that the Smiths simply didn’t want or appreciate contact, or even passer-by genialities. So they were left alone.
Those same locals rightly baulk at the notion that nobody cared about the Smiths. Some people have suggested that by not noticing the Smiths weren’t around, in the post office, pub or shop, that they couldn’t be bothered looking out for them. The truth is that they had been respectful of the choice – voiced or otherwise – of this reclusive couple.
I have met only a handful of locals in my new neighbourhood after three years. I hope to improve that now, but that’s my choice. It may not be someone else’s.
If a neighbour four doors down was in an emergency, or seriously unwell, would I know? I doubt it. And yet I would be horrified to read in the paper that they had died with nobody noticing.
I’d feel shame and sadness due to my proximity. For the people of Cloneen, as they club together to bury the Smiths, they should know they did the right thing by them.