Roche, James Jeffrey (1847–1908), poet and journalist, was born 31 May 1847 at Mountmellick, Queen's Co. (Laois), son of Edward Roche, schoolteacher, and his wife, Margaret (née Doyle). Roche had at least four brothers and two sisters. When Roche was an infant his parents emigrated to the colony of Prince Edward Island; he was educated at his father's school and at St Dunstan's College, Charlottetown, where he studied the classics. In May 1860 he moved to Boston and worked ‘in mercantile pursuits’ (perhaps as a clerk), according to his Boston Pilot obituary. He combined this with journalism for various papers, including the Detroit Free Press.
In 1870 Roche made the acquaintance of John Boyle O'Reilly (qv), with whom he formed a friendship that was ended only by O'Reilly's death in 1890. Roche became a frequent contributor to the Boston Pilot under O'Reilly's editorship, and in June 1883 became assistant editor; his Pilot obituarist calls him ‘the best editorial paragrapher of America in his time’. In August 1890 after O'Reilly's death Roche became editor of the Boston Pilot. Within ten weeks he had composed an official life of O'Reilly: almost 400 pages long, it was published in 1891 as Life of John Boyle O'Reilly together with his . . . complete poems and speeches with an introduction by Cardinal James Gibbons (O'Reilly's poems and speeches were compiled by his widow). The biography drew on conversations with O'Reilly as well as on printed sources, and has remained the standard work on its subject; it is, however, marked by discreet silences (possibly because of O'Reilly's own reticence rather than Roche's restraint) on such matters as a possible love affair in Australia. John Devoy (qv) praised its account of the court martial of the military Fenians but complained that Roche's hero worship of O'Reilly led him astray: the life claims that O'Reilly joined the British army in order to recruit for the Fenians, even though Devoy had told Roche that O'Reilly was attracted by military glamour and did not become a Fenian recruiter until a year after his enlistment.
Roche followed in O'Reilly's footsteps as an official poet on ceremonial occasions (seeing such commissions as evidence of the growing acceptability of Irish-Americans); he was commissioned by federal and municipal authorities to compose anniversary odes for the 250th anniversary of the town of Woburn, Massachusetts, and the bicentenary of Benjamin Franklin's birth (1906), as well as official verses read at the unveiling of the monument to Pickett's charge on the Gettysburg battlefield. In 1892 he received an honorary D.Litt. from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. In 1893 Roche briefly served on the Boston metropolitan park commission. He shared O'Reilly's view that Irish-Americans should think of themselves as Americans first and Irish afterwards; though generally supportive of home rule, Roche avoided Irish political controversies, which contributed to his general popularity.
Roche was primarily a man of letters, with little taste for the business or reportorial aspects of journalism. His literary tastes were described as following: ‘heroic and romantic lines, with a strong squint to seaward’. By-ways of war (1891; revised 1901 as The story of the filibusters) was the product of twelve years’ research; it glorifies American adventurers who attempted to carve out territories for themselves in Mexico, Cuba, and central America in the 1850s. The book is dominated by a generally admiring account of the activities of William Walker in Nicaragua. The reinvention of Walker as an American hero, whose aim of extending slavery is treated as an unfortunate personal foible, reflects the post-reconstruction process of reconciling North and South at the expense of racial equality (Roche indulges in some ponderous disquisitions on the evil effects of miscegenation in Latin America). It can also be seen as prefiguring the era of American expansionism associated with the 1898 Spanish-American war. Ballads of blue water (1895) is largely composed of narrative verses celebrating feats of courage in American naval history; it also contains an elegy (originally published in the Atlantic Monthly) for Roche's brother John, a naval pay clerk killed in a hurricane off Samoa in 1889.
Where John Boyle O'Reilly had been a man of action, Roche suffered from frail health and could only admire the strength of others. This gap between ideal and actual encouraged the satirical sensibility visible in Songs and satires (1866), The V-A-S-E and other bricabrac (published, undated, in the early 1890s), and the humorous mock-oriental pseudo-romances Her majesty the king (1898) and The sorrows of sap'ed (1901). Much of this humour is directed at feminine wiles and artistic pretensions: ‘Twice blessed is he in whose tent dwell both his mother and his wife's mother, for though he gain not Paradise, yet shall he fear not Gehenna’ (Her majesty the king). Roche was a habitué of several Boston literary clubs, notably the Papyrus (founded by O'Reilly), where he was secretary for several years before becoming president in 1890. He was also a member of the Boston Catholic Union and a co-founder of the American-Irish Historical Society, and an associate editor (with Maurice F. Egan, Lady Gregory (qv), and Douglas Hyde (qv)) of the ten-volume anthology of Irish literature (Philadelphia, 1904) by Justin McCarthy (qv).
From 1898 Roche's health went into decline, making it difficult for him to continue as editor of the Boston Pilot. However, his life of O'Reilly had won him the friendship of Theodore Roosevelt, always attentive to proponents of literary virility. In December 1904 Roche was appointed American consul at Genoa; in April 1907 he was moved to the consulate at Berne. He died 3 April 1908 at Berne after a long illness. He was twice married: his first wife, Miss Halloran, died about 1888; he afterwards married Mrs Oakey of Boston, who outlived him. He was survived by a son and a daughter.