Roche, Philip (d. 1798), priest and United Irishman, was born in Monastootagh (Boolavogue), Co. Wexford; nothing is known of his parents. He was ordained on 15 May 1785 and then stationed as curate to Fr John Synott in Gorey, where he developed his political thinking. Miles Byrne (qv) comments that Gorey enabled him to witness the actions of the Orange magistracy; Francis Plowden (qv) terms him the only priest in the diocese who joined the United Irishmen prior to the rebellion. Roche was well regarded by his superiors except for his heavy drinking; this led to his being reprimanded by James Caulfield (qv), bishop of Ferns, in the winter of 1797 and sent to the other end of the diocese as curate to Fr Thomas Rogers in Poulapesty, west of Clonroche. On the outbreak of rebellion, he joined the rebels under the command of Fr John Murphy (qv) at Corrigrua Hill and took part in the battle at Ballymore on 4 June 1798 in which the loyalist forces of Col. Walpole were defeated. Four days later, he was made commander of the southern force when his close confidant, Edward Roche (qv), took over from Bagenal Harvey (qv) as commander-in-chief. Around 11 June, Philip Roche moved camp from New Ross to Lacken Hill, sent out a call for reinforcements, and waited for the government forces to attack. When the latter refused to be drawn, Roche announced on 14 June that he would attack on 19 June with or without reinforcements. Heavy rain and dense fog on 19 June meant Roche's forces were depleted and the advance of loyalist troops was obscured until they had almost marched on Lacken Hill, compelling Roche to order a hasty retreat eastwards to Three Rocks. The following day, his army of around 1,000 pikemen and several hundred gunmen met the force under Gen. Sir John Moore (qv) at Goffsbridge on the Corock river. Roche's forces outnumbered Moore's by five to one, but Moore's had four times as many guns. By 8 p.m., after a four-hour battle, the rebel forces pulled back to Sleedagh having lost 300 men; Moore had lost a hundred. Learning of the defeat at Vinegar Hill, Roche prepared to surrender and left camp alone, having failed to persuade his men to accompany him; they remained with Fr John Murphy, who wanted to continue the insurrection in the midlands. Roche arrived in Wexford town early in the morning of 22 June where he was recognised by yeomen, dragged off his horse, taken out to Windmill Hill, beaten senseless, and then thrown into jail. He was tried together with eight others, including the protestant rebel Matthew Keogh (qv), and condemned to hang on 25 June. The rope snapped as he was hauled up the first time; he regained consciousness and had to go through the ordeal again. His body was then mutilated and thrown over the parapet of Wexford Bridge.
Roche was a large, boisterous man; his talents as a commander were occasionally offset by his heavy drinking, which is reported to have incapacitated him at Lacken Hill. Descriptions of his person range from Miles Byrne: ‘a clergyman of the most elegant manners and fine person, tall and handsome’ (Byrne, Memoirs, i, 204) to Gen. Moore: ‘a great, fat, vulgar beast’ (Moore, Diary, i, 300). However, both his bravery and his merciful conduct are attested to in most contemporary accounts of the rebellion. The loyalist Rev. James Gordon (qv) wrote: ‘He was certainly not a favourite with me, as I disliked his rough familiar manner and his too frequent indulgence of ebriety; but his behaviour in the rebellion has convinced me that he possessed a humane and generous heart, with an uncommon share of personal courage. My information comes from numbers of protestants who were protected in his camp’ (Gordon, 399).