Midwest Hall of Fame
2003: Chicago/Murphy-Roche Irish Music Club
Pat Roche

Pat Roche DancingPat Roche was born on March 24, 1905 to the family of Patrick and Brigid Roche in the small village of Doonaha, near Carrigagaholt, County Clare, Ireland. He was one of 10 children and remembers his childhood with helping out on the family farm, cutting turf and dancing at the crossroads and in a local out of use creamery which had been converted into a dance hall. His father, as well as farming the land, also ran a shop that sold fresh baked goods. For a time his father also ran a public house but Pat says he began to like it too well and his mother was soon to disapprove.

If it were not for the fact that a man named Michael Hennessey walked into Doonaha when he was 12 years old, we may never have heard of Pat. But walk in he did and fortunately for us Michael was a teacher of Irish dance who, in the tradition of  the bards of old, wandered from town to town, settled down for a while to teach and then move on again. Young Pat found Michael a place to stay and became a student of the master. He stayed in Doonaha for 12 years and during that time taught Pat all kinds of Irish dance including Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes.

During this same period Pat was involved in Ireland’s war of Independence acting as a dispatcher for the Irish Republican Army. He tells the story of  one occasion when carrying such a document coming upon a  British Army checkpoint. He hid the dispatch in the horse’s mane and on being ordered to dismount, a British soldier held the reins of the horse while he was searched. Nothing was found and he continued on his way. If the dispatch had been found he would almost certainly have been shot.

Eventually Pat gathered enough money to pay for his passage to America and in 1925 wearing a new suit and with a small package of provisions he made the six day journey to New York. He stayed there, living with his sisters who had earlier made the same journey. In 1930 he moved to Chicago. He began a small door-to-door grocery business there and at the same time began teaching Irish dancing, opening his  “Harp and Shamrock School of Traditional Dance.”

He organized and M.C.’d shows at the “Irish Village” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. he danced, he told stories and organized the Harp and Shamrock Ceili Band, America’s first ceili band. The band was approached to make a record for Decca. This 78 r.p.m. record featured the sound of Pat dancing to the music of “Boys of Blue Hill” and Stack of Wheat played by the band and sold all around the world.

Pat Roche perfected a unique style of teaching Irish Dance using a system where steps are counted as in a musical score. His daughter Peggy went to Ireland to study Irish dancing with the famous Ida Cadwell bringing her father’s system with her. The system so impressed Cadwell that she made the trip to Chicago to learn the system herself from Pat.

Many have been influenced by Pat’s teaching, not least Michael Flatley of “Lord of the Dance” fame. He was taught by a protégé of Pat, Margie Denehy. She has become a master and teacher of Irish Dance in her own right as have many of his students.

Thanks to Pat, Irish Dance has flourished in the Midwest. Pat Roch passed on at age 99 on Pat Roche on Oct. 24, 2004 in Chicago at age 99.

Pat with family at Hall of Fame ceremony
Pat with family at Hall of Fame ceremony.
Pat Roche in younger days
Pat in younger days

Thanks to the Chicago Pat Roche Feis.

Back to top

CCÉ Midwest Hall of Fame Home

Hall of Fame Home
Midwest Region
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
Posted: 31-Oct-2006