Roche – popular Irish name with Norman origins

History of the Irish name Roche. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Roche is a common surname in Ireland and throughout the English speaking world. It is particularly popular in Co Wexford and in various parts of Munster.

There are a number of variations to the name including Roach, Roache, Roch and Roches.

The motto on the Roche coat of arms reads ‘Mon Dieu est ma roche’ which translates to ‘My god is my rock’.
History of Irish surnames

Origins in Normandy

The name actually has origins in France and was brought over to Ireland during the Norman invasions in the 12th century.

In France the name was given to people who came from Le Roches in Normandy or lived by a rocky area. The name comes from the French word ‘roche’ which means ‘rock’.

In 1066 William the Conqueror led the Norman troops as they invaded England. Several French names arrived in England at this time as the Normans settled and spread around Britain.

Norman Invasion of Ireland

Just over 100 years later the Normans turned their attention to Ireland. After the King of Leinster, Diarmait MacMurrough was ousted by Rory O’Connor, he sought help from the English King Henry II to reclaim his thrown.

Little did the MacMurroughs or the O’Connors know, that this would lead to over 700 years of some level of British rule over Ireland.

The Normans invaded Ireland, first they arrived in Leinster in 1169 and then in Munster in 1171. They settled in the new land and eventually integrated with the locals, as they had done in England the previous century.

There are places called Rochestown in many of the counties where the Normans settled such as Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork. The name Roche is still most popular in these counties.

The Roches became a powerful family in Fermoy, Co Cork, much of which is still known as ‘Roches County’. David Roche was the 1st Viscount of Fermoy in 1570. He is an ancestor of Diana Princess of Wales.

Cromwell’s Invasion of Ireland

In the 17th century the British invaded Ireland again as Oliver Cromwell’s troops brutally took control of the country.

Names became formally anglicised at this point as the English attempted to eradicate Irish culture. The Roches who had originally come over with the Normans were by now very much Irish. When English clerks took their names for tax reasons they interpreted the name as it sounded to them.

This is why there are often slight variations of the same original name, such as Roche, Roach and Roch.

Jay Roach. Photo copyright Peabody Awards CC2
Jay Roach

The name spread across the world in the mid-19th century. Ireland was devastated when successive potato crops failed to grow. The country lost nearly half its population with millions dying from starvation or disease caused by malnutrition.

Millions more left their country to search for a better life. They moved to Britain, the USA, Canada and Australia in great numbers.

Notable Roches

Father Philip Roche was born in Wexford in the 18th century. He was a commander in the 1798 Irish Rebellion. He was court martialled and hanged for his part in the Rebellion.

Bill Roache is an English actor who is famous for his role as Ken Barlow on the UK soap Coronation Street. Roache has played the part since the first ever episode in 1960 and is in the Guinness book of Records as the longest serving actor in a continuous role.

Freddie Roach is a boxing trainer and former professional boxer. He had a decent career as a boxer but really made a mark as a trainer. He has trained world champions such as Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan. He has been named trainer of the year several times by the Boxing Writers Association of America and been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

Jay Roach is an American writer and film director. Some of his best known projects include Austin Powers, Borat and Meet the Parents.

History of Irish surnames