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The Strange Sayings of Sir Boyle Roche

6 Conversations

Mr Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I will nip him in the bud.

It was sentences like these that made Sir Boyle Roche famous in his day. Long after his death, many of these sayings are still remembered.

Sir Boyle Roche

Born in 1743, Sir Boyle Roche1 became the Member of Parliament for Tralee, County Kerry in the Irish House of Commons. His striking but incoherent images became famous. More seriously, he played a part in Irish history by opposing Catholic emancipation. When the Act of Union was passed in 1801, abolishing the old Irish Parliament, he did not become an MP at Westminster. He died in 1807.

Some Sayings

Most of Sir Boyle Roche's more famous blunders were in speeches to the Irish House of Commons. In his speeches, he supported the Act of Union with Britain, and was deeply suspicious of any political ideas inspired by the French Revolution. A few of his sayings are remembered from letters to friends.

  • Why should we put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity? For what has posterity ever done for us?
  • How can I be in two places at once, unless I were a bird?
  • Half the lies our opponents tell about us are untrue.
  • The cup of Ireland's misery has been overflowing for centuries and is not yet half full.
  • Ireland and England are like two sisters; I would have them embrace like one brother.
  • All along the untrodden paths of the future, I can see the footprints of an unseen hand.
  • We should silence anyone who opposes the right to freedom of speech.
  • Here perhaps, sir, the murderous Marshallaw-men2 would break in, cut us to mince-meat and throw our bleeding heads upon that table, to stare us in the face!
  • The only thing to prevent what's past is to put a stop to it before it happens.
  • At present there are such goings-on that everything is at a standstill.
  • In a letter:
    While I write this letter, I have a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other.
  • In a letter:
    PS If you do not receive this, of course it must have been miscarried; therefore I beg you to write and let me know.

The Irish Bull

This type of confused figure of speech became known as an Irish Bull. Dr John Mahaffy (the great 19th Century scholar of Trinity College Dublin) said that 'An Irish Bull is always pregnant'. Irish Bulls can still be spotted occasionally, especially in the speeches of politicians.

1His title of 'Sir' was an inherited baronetcy rather than a knighthood earned by his own activities.2Marshallaw was Roche's version of Marseillais.

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