Roche (Roach), Edward (c.1758–1798/9), insurgent commander, was born at Garrylough, St Nicholas's parish, Co. Wexford (about six miles from Wexford town) into a well-established farming family. His older brother, the Rev. Redmond Roche (1742–1819), was parish priest of Crossabeg in the late eighteenth century. The tradition that he received a superior education and was quick and talented is borne out by documents he wrote during the insurrection. By the 1790s the family farm under his management was heavily involved in the corn and malting trade and he was regarded as a wealthy man. In 1796 he enlisted in the Shelmalier yeoman cavalry set up by Col. Le Hunte of Artramont and was made permanent sergeant. Towards midnight on 26/7 May 1798 he rode out in full-dress uniform, with most of the catholic members of the cavalry, leading Garrylough rebels to join insurgents collecting at the village of Ballinamonabeg, according to a prearranged plan. Under the command of Roche, a 2,000-strong rebel force (mostly pikemen) mounted Oulart Hill and awaited the onset of some 120 North Cork militia. Flouting orders to stay put, the bulk of the militia worked up the slopes in contempt of the peasant army. The rebels wavered but, under the instructions of Roche and Morgan Byrne, held ranks, drawing the militia into an enclosure before charging and slaughtering them.
As news got to Wexford town, the rebels assembled on Carrigrew hill. On 28 May the force, increasing dramatically to some 6,000 men, raided Camolin Park house for arms, looted Ferns for weapons and provisions, and threatened Enniscorthy. Stampeding a herd of cattle into the Duffry gate, the rebel force breached the town defences by late afternoon. Though rebel casualties were high (perhaps 500 died), the second campaign victory, broadly under Roche (there was much fluidity in rebel leadership), resulted in the rebel occupation of mid Wexford. Camp was pitched on Vinegar Hill nearby. Though Roche later checked reprisal killings, it seems that many occurred in the massive camp during the following week. Roche then led a large force south to Forth Mountain, surprising and defeating British reinforcements making for Wexford town. Though the town was taken peacefully later that day, Roche and the other leaders had been deceived by negotiations carried out to buy time for the garrison to escape. At a council on 31 May, it was decided that the army should be divided into a northern county force under Roche and a southern under Bagenal Harvey (qv). Marching first to Vinegar Hill, then to Carrigrew Hill, Roche monitored the build-up of militia and yeomanry in Gorey for several days. Though rebel numbers under Roche continued to rise, this phase of the rebellion represented the realisation that insurgency outside Co. Wexford seemed weak. The force became gradually more passive and directionless, and the leadership hierarchy appears to have broken down.
On 4 June Roche ably supported a successful and bloody ambush at Tubberneering, carried out without his orders by a rebel company on a column of artillery, infantry, and cavalry under Col. Walpole. As Gorey was taken, Roche chose to ride to Wexford, ostensibly to get fresh supplies of gunpowder but actually to order and reinvigorate the rebel structure of command. He seems to have had the authority to dismiss Harvey from his military responsibilities on 7 June, taking over as commander-in-chief of the Wexford rebels, and appointing the Rev. Richard Roche in charge of the southern army and Anthony Perry (qv) as his replacement in the north, in effect unseating the dubious south Wexford moderates from rebel power. Later that day he drew up a republican proclamation to the ‘people of Ireland’, stating that ‘all Europe must admire . . . the heroic acts achieved by a people strangers to military tactics . . . fighting for liberty’, insisting that the rebels would not allow religious bigotry to contaminate their cause, and appealing for a ‘union of brotherhood and affection’ (Furlong, 109–10). This printed document was the most coherent political statement of intent produced by the rebel administration, though written by one on the ‘military’ wing of the leadership. Roche immediately issued strict orders to halt unauthorised executions, while outlawing several notorious loyalists. His actions stabilised rebel violence and effectively inaugurated overt rebel government in Wexford. Though he took up quarters in the town, he rode out to the several camps personally to announce the new orders.
By 13 June rebel inertia and uncertainty appears to have prevailed again. As the range of feasible options open to the rebel army diminished, the rebel leadership became more uncoordinated, and Roche slipped into the role of divisional leader. He seems to have returned to Vinegar Hill, but did nothing to fortify the camp. On 18 June it was Roche who issued the doubtful order to consolidate the rebel army on Vinegar Hill to face the regular crown forces in battle. On a frantic single-handed mission to gather musketeers for the ensuing clash, he roved central Wexford for two days and nights. On 20 June he hauled a scattered rebel band from Wexford town, incidentally preventing the massacre of loyalists on the town bridge. Reaching Vinegar Hill on the morning of 21 June as the camp disintegrated under a British bombardment, Roche covered the retreat of the rebel army but could not stop the slaughter of civilians left on the summit. Later that day Roche, Perry, and Edward Fitzgerald (qv) led the bulk of the northern army out of Wexford on a march to the north-west of the county. By the end of June the force had split up into small, desperate skirmishing parties, picking up local sympathisers and losing men daily, forcing through the difficult terrain of south Wicklow.
Aiming to get to the United Irish heartland of east Ulster, Roche was among the 1,000-strong band that reached the Boyne on 14 July before being encircled. Slipping through British lines, he hid in Wicklow until surrendering in late August 1798 on condition that he be transported rather than hanged. Imprisoned in Newgate, he was tried 17 December 1798 on commission in Wexford, where it was stated to his credit that he acted at all times to prevent sectarian killings. While awaiting transportation he died suddenly in Newgate, possibly being poisoned.
His wife (name unknown) accompanied him throughout the rebel campaign.