The Roche surname is French (Norman) in origin and means “rock”. It is both a geographical and habitation surname; it could be acquired by a family who lived near a rocky outcrop or crag, or by living close to a town with this name. Many towns in France, Ireland and the UK are based on the name.
The Roche surname in Ireland and the UK originated in Wales in approximately 1100 AD. The district of Rhos in south west Wales was heavily influenced by the Normans at this time and also became a major Flemish settlement. The parish of Roch was established in Rhos near a rocky outcrop. A map of the districts (cantref) in medieval Wales is shown below. Rhos later became known as Pembrokeshire.
A prominent family in Rhos
Godebert “the Fleming” of Rhos was born in Roch parish in 1096. He was a Flemish Knight and had 2 sons; Richard FitzGodebert de Roch and Rodebert FitzGodebert de Roch. They acquired the Roch name from the local parish area. Both became Knights and Richard FitzGodebert de Roch was the first Knight to land in Ireland in 1167, prior to the main Norman forces. The families became known as de Roche, or de Rupe (in latin) and they acquired substantial property in Wales and Ireland, including Roch Castle and Pill Priory. Descendants of these Roche families are found predominantly in Ireland and to a lesser extent throughout the UK.
It is important to realize that not all Roche families from Ireland and the UK are descended from the FitzGodebert de Roch families. As mentioned in the beginning, the surname is both geographical and habitational in origin. Many families in Ireland and the UK would have acquired the name by living in or near many of the towns which became associated with the Roche name, eg. Roch parish in Rhos (Pembrokeshire). It should also be noted that the spelling of the name can vary and become interchangeable, even within the same family line. The most common alternative is Roach, which more closely matches the pronunciation in many areas.
Articles on Roche history
Cambro-Irish Timeline (PDF file, 53 pages)
This article by Jim Roache provides an extensive timeline of Roche history from the 12th century to the 18th century.
Roch in Wales and Operation Ireland (PDF file, 27 pages)
This article by Jim Roache focuses on the original Roche family in Wales during the 12th century and their involvement in the Norman invasion of Ireland.
de la Roche history by Llangwn History Society (PDF file, 9 pages)
Article by the Llangwn History Society (Pembrokeshire) on the Roche family.