Bodies of couple lay undiscovered in Irish home for 18 months

Police in Ireland are investigating the cause of death of two British pensioners whose bodies lay undiscovered in their rural bungalow for an estimated 18 months until they were found this week.

The couple, named locally as Nicholas Smith, 81, and his wife, Hilary Smith, 79, lived in a remote townland called Rossane, about three miles from Cloneen village in County Tipperary.

Police made the grim discovery on Monday after neighbours expressed concern about the couple, who had not been seen since late 2020.

Nicholas was in a bedroom and Hilary was in the living room. The blinds were pulled down. There was no sign of foul play or forced entry.

A postmortem by a state pathologist, Linda Mulligan, at University Hospital Waterford, was inconclusive. Police are awaiting the results of toxicology and other tests. There is speculation they may have died from Covid-19 or carbon monoxide poisoning, but police stressed they were keeping an open mind.

The couple had reportedly worked on cruise ships in Australia – Nicholas is said to have been a captain – before retiring to Ireland and moving to Rossane about a decade ago. They are not believed to have had children.

“They kept very much to themselves,” one neighbour told the Irish Times. “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.”

In late 2020 the Smiths told people in the area they intended to move to France, and they paid a man in advance to continue cutting their lawn so their absence did not cause concern. A strict Covid lockdown that continued into 2021 further dampened curiosity.

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The garden’s unkempt condition, and the fact the couple’s car remained on the property, prompted police to make a welfare check on Monday.

The condition and expiration dates of milk cartons and other perishable items in the fridge suggest the couple died in November or December 2020. Police are inspecting letters and documents in the house for clues and liaising with police forces in the UK and Australia to learn more about the couple.

Mark Fitzgerald, a councillor, said the community felt shock and sadness, and also felt unfairly criticised on social media, where there have been accusations of a lack of neighbourliness.

“They had told people they were moving,” he told reporters. “The assumption was these people weren’t living in the area any more. We know very little about the couple. Personally as a councillor and publican you’d know everybody in the area but I never met them. They really did keep to themselves and you have to respect that.”