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
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
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 in younger days
Thanks to the Chicago
Pat Roche Feis.