Colonel James Roche

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Roche, James, Colonel, known as "The Swimmer," was of the family of the Lords of Roche and Fermoy. His father lost his estates in the County of Waterford in the War of 1641-'52, for adhesion to the royal cause, and died in exile in Flanders. James grew up to be a distinguished soldier, and refusing Tirconnell's solicitations to cast in his lot with James II., entered the Williamite army, attained the rank of colonel, and was attached to the expedition under the command of Kirke, sent for the relief of Londonderry, in June 1689.

On the arrival of the fleet in Lough Foyle, the town was found to be completely invested, and Colonel Roche volunteered to carry a despatch, and arrange signals with the besieged. He was accordingly put ashore, made his way unobserved through the woods, reached the lines of the besiegers, concealed his clothes in a thicket on the banks of the river, took to the water, and was carried up by the tide to the ferry-gate, where he was joyfully received. After one day of consultation with the besieged, he again committed himself to the river, but on landing found his clothes gone, and the spot occupied by the enemy on the lookout for him. He was set upon, and his jawbone broken.

He plunged again into the water, received three shots, and at the same time was assured of life, liberty, and large rewards if he would surrender. These he spurned, and managed to swim back three weary miles to the city, where he arrived in an exhausted condition. When he woke out of the swoon into which he fell on reaching the landing-place, he found the chamber where he lay occupied by Governor Walker, Baker, and other prominent defenders, in prayer for his recovery. He was thenceforward known as "The Swimmer," and was appropriately granted by King William most of the ferries in Ireland. These cannot have been of much value, as small estates in the counties of Waterford, Cork, and Meath were added, and a charge of £3,269 on certain Irish forfeitures, of which sum he is said to have received only £1,148. A memorial addressed to Parliament about 1704 fully sets forth his services.

Sources

52a. Burke, Sir Bernard: Family Romance. London, 1855.

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