The Roche Family

Roche family crest

(Crest No. 5. Plate 67.)

THE Roche family is of Norman origin, and came to Ireland in the year 1507. The Roches, with many other Anglo-Norman families, settled in ancient Thomond, comprising the present Counties of Limerick and Clare, where they are now Barons of Tarbert. This family also came into possession of the barony of Fermoy, in the County of Cork, which was called “Roche’s Country,” and where they became Viscounts of Fermoy and Barons of Castlelough. A branch of this family was also settled in the County of Waterford.

The Roches from their earliest settlement in Cork were among the most prominent families of that county. In 1571 Maurice Roche was mayor of the City of Cork, and received a silver collar from Queen Elizabeth for his services against the Earl of Desmond, and in 1609 Dominick Roche was appointed mayor of the city under its new charter.

The Roches were among those who suffered the loss of their privileges and estates during the Cromwellian wars, and though they petitioned for a restoration of their lost possessions, to which they were entitled under the act of settlement, the execution of the order was evaded and their rightful claims ignored.

A notable character of this name was Sir Boyle Roche, the buffoon of the Irish House of Commons. He served with distinction in the British army during the war of the American Revolution, and subsequently entered the Irish Parliament. In 1782 he was created a baronet for his consistent support of the Government. He supported the Union, and, being utterly devoid of principle in politics, was frequently chosen to execute the vilest work of the Castle party. Personally, however, he had numerous good qualities, which gained him popularity, if not respect. He is best remembered for his ridiculous bulls, most of which were doubtless premeditated. The following are specimens uttered in the House of Commons: “Mr. Speaker, if we once permitted the villainous French masons to meddle with the buttresses and walls of our ancient constitution, they would never stop nor stay, Sir, till they brought the foundation stones tumbling down about the ears of the nation.” Burke’s son, as agent of the Catholic committee, had committed a breach of privilege, and the sergeant-at-arms was rebuked for permitting him to escape. Whereupon Roche exclaimed: “How could the sergeant-at-arms stop him in the rear, while he was catching him in the front? Did the Speaker think the sergeant-at-arms could be, like a bird, in two places at the same time?” Speaking in opposition to a grant for public works, he said: “What, Mr. Speaker, and so we are to beggar ourselves for the fear of vexing posterity? Now, I would ask the honourable gentlemen, and this still more honourable house, why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity; for what has posterity ever done for us? I apprehend the gentlemen have entirely mistaken my words. I assure the house that by posterity I do not mean my ancestors, but those who are to come immediately after them.” On another occasion he advocated the expediency of “giving up a part, or, if necessary, the whole of the constitution, in order to preserve the remainder.”

Colonel James Roche, known as “The Swimmer,” was a distinguished soldier in the army of William of Orange. His father had lost his estates in Waterford for his adherence to the royal cause in the war of 1641-1652. Colonel Roche accompanied Kirke’s expedition for the relief of Londonderry in 1689, and on arriving in Lough Foyle volunteered to carry a dispatch to the garrison of the besieged town. On reaching the lines of the besiegers he concealed his clothes in a thicket, and entering the water swam with the tide to the ferry-gate of the invested city, where he was taken in. Next day he swam back, but found that his clothes were gone, and the enemy were awaiting him. He was offered large rewards if he would surrender, which he promptly refused to do, and with his jawbone broken and three bullets in his body he again took to the water and swam back the three miles to the ferry-gate. He was afterward known as “The Swimmer,” and was rewarded by King William in money and lands.

James Roche, of Cork, born in 1771, was a banker for many years in his native city and a writer of merit. He was educated in France, and lived there during the Revolution, where he was arrested, but released on the death of Robespierre. He was for many years a contributor to the “Dublin Review,” the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” and other standard periodicals, and published two volumes of essays.

Regina Maria Roche, the distinguished novelist, was born in 1765, and died in 1845. Allibone mentions sixteen works published by her between 1793 and 1823.

The name is still numerous in the south of Ireland, as well as in the United States and Canada. James Jeffry Roche, poet, journalist, and literateur, and at present editor of the “Boston Pilot,” is a descendant of this family.