We reminisced as we recalled the days almost sixty years ago when we shared a classroom in the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane. John Roche was to follow a family tradition of soldiering to which he devoted over 47 years of his life. But before he embarked on the military life he became, as did so many of our school mates of the 1950’s, at first a messenger boy and later an emigrant. John worked in Reid Lalor’s grocery and public house as a messenger boy before taking the emigrant boat with his sister Delia to live with his mother’s sister in Manchester. John and Delia were the eldest of 11 children of Patrick Roche and Mary Carey both from Nelson Street where the Roche family lived before moving to Pairc Bhride.
John worked in a textile factory in Manchester but found himself drawn back to his hometown to which he returned in 1958. As a young fellow not yet 18 years old he required his parents permission to join the Irish army which given his father and grandfather’s Irish Army service presented no problem. So it was that the 17 ½ year old enlisted in the army ordnance corps on the Curragh where John served for a time with his father.
The Roche family military tradition extended back at least three generations with John’s father Patrick having enlisted at the start of the Second World War. He was part of a group of 38 men from Ennis who travelled by train to enlist at the Curragh in 1939. John’s grandfather was also an army man who served during World War I. His three uncles on his mother’s side John, James and Andrew Carey of 7 Nelson Street also enlisted during World War I and John, who was a boat man, suffered an injury to his arm following which he was discharged home to Athy. His brother James Carey would later drown in the canal following a tragic accident while his other brother Andrew emigrated to Manchester where he died in the late 1980’s. John Roche’s own brothers Patrick, Vincent and Seamus also continued the family tradition of military service with Patrick serving in the Irish Army while his two other siblings enlisted in the British Army.
Two and a half years after joining the Irish army John was promoted to the rank of Corporal. He served in the Congo on two occasions, the first time in 1960 as part of the 33rd Battalion. Three years later another six month overseas assignment saw him joining the 38th Battalion in the Congo. John was stationed, on the 8th of November 1960, in Mamano approximately 40 miles from Niemba to where Lt Gleeson and his troops were travelling when they were ambushed and killed.
John spent almost 48 years in the service of the State, 25 ½ years as a uniformed member of the Irish army and 22 years as a civilian in the ammunition depot on the Curragh. When he retired John had attained the rank of Sergeant and had spent sometime on border duty with the bomb disposal unit. He finally left the Curragh barracks for the last time in December 2006 bringing to an end a military tradition of the Roche and Carey families extending back several generations.
Stepping back into civilian life gave John an opportunity to devote more time to community work. His involvement in the Credit Union movement extends back over 30 years and saw him holding many officer positions in Athy Credit Union including the Presidency of the local branch. Chairman of the local residents association for the past 5 years John is also a long standing member of the Dominican laity and the housing estate where he lives by happy coincidence is named after St. Dominic.
John who left school at a very early age had a distinguished career in the Irish army as well as playing an outstanding role in the local community. Recently with ex navy man Raphael Clarke he was responsible for setting up the local branch of the National Organisation of Ex Service Men and Women. John and Raphael have attended for some years past the annual remembrance day commemoration held in St. Michael’s Cemetery for Irish men killed in wars. Both men felt that Athy being one of the important satellite towns of the Curragh military camp and with many ex service men and women living locally should have a branch of O.N.E. The branch was launched in August 2013 and recently the branch members hosted an information meeting in the local heritage centre.
John although long retired from army life continues his voluntary work within the local community. Married to the form Kathleen McDermott from Cloney both John and Kathleen are blessed with five children and two grandchildren.