Joe Kennedy was the fifth, or maybe sixth, generation who had worked the family farm in south Tyrone between Aughnacloy and Caledon. He and his wife Mary were in their early seventies and preparing to hand over the farm to their only son Peter who, in his mid forties, had finally found himself a wife.
Joe and Mary were also planning to move out of the bungalow they had built some forty years previously and, having done some substantial renovations, were eventually planning to go back to live in the old farmhouse on top of the hill overlooking Mullan Village in County Monaghan.
Both were in good health and were enjoying working together on the renovations to the old house. Peter and his new wife, Joanne, were doing most of the work around the farm, so Joe and Mary were spending a fair amount of time up at the old farmhouse. On a summer evening they would often sit on the porch at the front of the house, admiring the view and reminiscing about old times.
‘Do you mind the time, Mary, yon bunch a eejits came by with the yarn about there being gold in the ground round here?’
‘I do certainly, Joe, but did you not read in the Tyrone Courier last week there’s another couple of companies started up in Omagh with the same stupid notion.’
‘Aye, they’ll probably looking for more eejits to part with their money again.’
‘Well, at least we were canny enough not to give them even a brass farthing the last time.’
‘Mary, on another matter entirely – when is that nephew of yours coming to re-do the plumbing here?
‘What’s the rush, Joe? There’s plenty of time before we’ll be moving back up here permanently.’
‘Aye, there may well be, but with my bit of a problem I don’t want to be caught short up here.’
‘Joe, I have the answer’ Mary joked. ‘Didn’t those gold mining boys drill a big deep hole in the ground over by the apple trees? Move the aul’ shed over the top of it and use it when you’re up here and you’re caught short.’
‘Great idea, Mary. I’ll start that this very minute. You go inside and put the kettle on and I’ll sort out the new loo’.
While Mary was making tea on the kitchen range, Joe cut a hole in the door of an old kitchen cupboard, piled a selection of broken concrete blocks on each side of the roughly three foot diameter hole in the ground, put the former kitchen cupboard on top of the blocks and stood back to admire his handiwork.
‘There you go, Mary. Grand job, isn’t it? I’ll move the aul shed over the top of it all in the mornin’.’
The following morning Joe indeed set off up to the old house to finish off his ‘state of the art’ sanitary ware.
‘I’ll see you before lunch time, Mary’, he said as he left the bungalow.
When Joe hadn’t returned by mid afternoon, Mary went looking for him. As she neared the apple trees, she spotted the shed, which Joe had obviously moved across the field.
‘Joe, what are you up to? Are you not coming down for a bite of lunch?’
There was no answer and Mary went across to the shed. She pushed the door open and there was Joe, sitting there with his trousers down and his head slumped forward on his chest. He was dead.
There was an inquest and the verdict was death by natural causes; in other words, the death was caused by the normal development of a natural illness which was not significantly contributed to by human intervention.
Local folk came to pay their respects and one evening, when Mary was on her own, Tony Hagan, an old school friend of Joe’s and the retired local police sergeant, called to see her.
‘This is the strangest thing, Mary,’ he said, ‘your Joe was one of the fittest men I’ve ever known, he had no heart problems, he didn’t have a stroke or anything like that. But he’s gone and we’ll just never know what took him.’
‘Oh, I know what took him, Tony’. said Mary, ‘You can be sure of that.’
‘Mary, you can’t be serious. Are you telling me you know, for sure, how your Joe died.’
‘I am, Tony.’
‘But you never said a word at the inquest. Mary, you’re an old friend and for that, I’ll not say anything about this but you do know that it’s a very serious offence to withhold evidence from a inquest. Why, on earth, did you not say anything?’
‘For dear sake, Tony, how could I stand up in front of all those people and tell them how Joe died? I just couldn’t do it.”
‘Well, will you tell me, Mary?’
Mary sat with her head in her hands for maybe a minute and then finally said ‘OK, Tony, I’ll tell you, on one condition. It never goes any further. You never breathe a word of this – to anyone.’
‘You have my word on that, Mary. What happened?
‘Well, Tony, it’s a bit of a long story. Just before Joe and I got engaged, old Mrs Kennedy, Joe’s mother, came round to see me. She said to me, ‘Mary, by the looks of things, you and our Joe are going to be getting married shortly and if that’s the case there’s something I feel I should tell you. There’s a wee strangeness about him. Those are the very words she used – he has a wee strangeness about him. And it was that ‘wee strangeness’ that killed him.’
‘What are talking about, Mary? What wee strangeness? And how could it have killed him?
‘Tony, I’ll just tell you what she told me. She said to me ‘Mary, ever since our Joe was a youngster, every time he goes to the toilet, he always holds his breath ‘til he hears the splash. And Tony, that hole the gold prospectors dug was nearly five hundred feet deep.’