Roche, Sir Boyle (1736–1807), MP and soldier, was born in October 1736, third son among four children of Jordan Roche, landowner, and his wife Ellen, daughter of Col. White of Rathgonan, Co. Limerick. His father frittered away the family estate and Boyle was mostly reared by his mother's relatives. In June 1753 he became an ensign in the 27th Foot, and served in Canada during the seven years war (1756–63). Taken prisoner by Native people, he was handed over to the French and released after the fall of Quebec in 1759. He rejoined his regiment and served in the West Indies, distinguishing himself at the taking of Havana and Martinique (1762). He became captain in the 28th Foot (1763) and returned home at the end of the war. In August 1770 he became brigade major of Dublin, and was given a revenue sinecure (1775). During the American war (1775–81) he was an enthusiastic recruiter of troops for the crown, usually using a mixture of bribery and beer. He faced down opposition to recruiting catholics, arguing that they had shown great bravery in the last war and behaved with impeccable loyalty despite fighting a catholic enemy. Roche was knighted for his recruiting services (November 1776) and created a baronet (30 November 1782) on the recommendation of the duke of Portland (qv). He also became gentleman usher and master of ceremonies at Dublin Castle (1778–1800) – a position for which ‘he was pre-eminently qualified by his handsome figure, graceful address, and ready wit’ (Wills, 242) – and surveyor of the Kenmare river (£200 a year); by 1783 his income from office amounted to about £800 a year.
As MP for Tralee (1775–6, 1790–97), Gowran, Co. Kilkenny (1777–83), Portarlington (1784–90), and Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow (1797–1800), he consistently supported the government, and opposed legislative independence in the early 1780s. In 1783 he was a Volunteer colonel and Co. Cork delegate to the Volunteer Convention held in Dublin in November. During the convention he helped stymie discussion of catholic emancipation by claiming that he had been informed by his relative Lord Kenmare (qv) that catholics were happy with the concessions recently granted and had no wish to be given political rights; Kenmare later denied this. He also opposed the Volunteer parliamentary reform bill, claiming it would transfer power into the hands of demagogues. He spoke strongly against the Catholic Committee's petition for relief in February 1792 and it was partly his dismissal of the committee, as impoverished shopkeepers who represented no one, that encouraged it to hold nationwide elections for the Catholic Convention of December 1792.
Roche was famous for his ‘bulls’ – ludicrously contradictory or inconsistent statements, and radical propaganda in the 1790s often referred to him as ‘Sir Boyle Balderdash’. Before Lord Howe's famous victory over the French fleet on 1 June 1794, Roche predicted that Howe would ‘make the French bite the dust’ (McDougal, 175). When an opposition spokesman announced that the government had no right to burden posterity with a weighty debt, Roche replied ‘why should we put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity: for what has posterity done for us?’ Amidst the laughter of the house he tried to explain that ‘by posterity he did not at all mean our ancestors, but those who were to come immediately after them’ (Barrington, 215–16). He regularly denounced the French revolution, claiming that if the French invaded they ‘would break in, cut us into joints, and throw our bleeding heads upon that table, to stare us in the face’ (Barrington, 217). Because of his reputation, some ancient jokes were attributed to him, notably the well known ‘a man could not be in two places at once, barring he be a bird’ (Le Fanu, 224). But many of his mangled metaphors were undoubtedly his own work: during a commons debate he famously announced ‘I smell a rat, I see it floating in the air before me, but mark me sir, I'll nip it in the bud’ (Notes and Queries, ix, 325); several embellishments were later added.
Many observers believed that he rather played up the character of the blustering Irish soldier and that his bulls were a deliberate device to undermine the effect of forceful speeches by opposition spokesmen: after a string of absurdities by Roche the indignation or hostility of the house would often dissolve in laughter. Because of his entertainment value he was a popular figure with the public gallery and among fellow MPs. Jonah Barrington (qv) described him as ‘a fine, bluff, soldier-like old gentleman. He had numerous good qualities; . . . his ideas were full of honour and etiquette, of discipline and bravery’, and noted that his sayings sometimes contained an element of wisdom, such as ‘The best way to avoid danger is to meet it plump’. Barrington recalled that Roche's bluestocking wife forced him to read Gibbon's Decline and fall of the Roman empire, which puzzled Roche so much that he ever afterwards ‘stigmatised the great historian as a low fellow, who ought to have been kicked out of company wherever he was, for turning people's thoughts away from their prayers and their politics to what the devil himself could neither make head nor tail of’ (Barrington, 214, 200).
Roche strongly supported the act of union, voting for it in 1799 and 1800. During the debates he announced his wish that ‘the two sisters should embrace like one brother’ (Barrington, 216) and claimed that under the union Ireland's ‘barren hills would become fertile valleys’ (Le Fanu, 224). Partly in compensation for the abolition of his ceremonial office after the union he and his wife received a joint pension of £300 (22 May 1801); she already had a pension of £200 a year. On several occasions he applied unsuccessfully for a peerage. He died 5 June 1807 at his house in Eccles St., Dublin.
He married (20 October 1778) Mary (d. 1831), daughter of Adm. Sir Thomas Frankland, 5th baronet, of Great Thirkleby Hall, Yorkshire; they had no children.