Penny Mordaunt’s Irish roots traced back to Catholic family from Co Wexford

Great-great grandfather jailed for involvement in Land League while grandfather joined anti-treaty IRA

The ancestors of the leading candidate to become the next UK Prime Minister Penny Mordaunt were an Irish Catholic family from Co Wexford.

Penny Mordaunt’s uncle Henry Mordaunt has traced the family history back to the late 1600s in Co Wexford. He believes the family are of Norman origin who settled first in England and then in Ireland.

Penny Mordaunt’s great-great grandfather Edward (1831-1917) was jailed several times for his involvement in the Land League and for his attempts to ensure that those who grabbed land from evicted tenants were ostracised and prevented from selling their wares at market.

A report from 1886 states that Edward Mordaunt and his eight children were evicted from their home in Monamolin “for the non-payment of a monstrous rack-rented and flooded farm”.


His colleagues in the National League offered their “sincere sympathy to him and his family for the cruel treatment they have received. Moreover, they believed he was being ‘made of an example of on account of his fidelity to the national cause’.” Such was his popularity that a shop was bought for him by public subscription so he could make a living after eviction.

When he died in 1917 his son Denis had a memorial erected in Boolavogue cemetery: “In memory of Edward Mordaunt, Monamolin, of Land League fame, who was a fearless soldier in the Land War of the 1880s. After suffering terms of imprisonment died Feb. 6th, 1917. Aged 85.”

Penny Mordaunt’s great grandfather Patrick joined the British army and died aged 40 in March 1914 predeceasing his father by three years. He left six surviving children including her grandfather Edward Patrick known as Ned Mordaunt.

Ned Mordaunt went to school in Ireland. He signed up to fight in the first World War in 1918 in the South Irish Horse and was involved in the Russian Civil War for a short time before returning to Ireland in 1919.

According to Henry, his father then joined the anti-Treaty IRA in the Civil War.

“I was in my twenties in the 1960s and I was on a trip back to Ireland. My father gave me a letter of introduction to an Irish senator. I contacted him and it was he who gave me the details that my father had been interned because he refused the call up into the National Army during the Civil War,” he said.

“The senator told me in conversation that my father was such a troublemaker, that he was surprised he wasn’t shot. That’s an anecdote from 55 years from a senator whose name I can’t remember.”

Ned Mordaunt’s brother Myles died in 1960 13 years before she was born. He appears to have inherited his brother’s anti-Treaty sensibilities. As a boy he drew cartoons for republican newspapers in Dublin.

He was an active socialist who wrote a book proposing that wars should be settled by small assassination squads of the terminally ill targeting the politicians.

An obituary in the New Statesman said he was “like a combination of Trotsky, James Joyce and a Kentucky colonel ... his life was a curious sidelong crabwise procession of getting nowhere. He never supported any but hopelessly lost causes.”

In 1924 Ned Mordaunt rejoined the British army and married an English woman. They had seven children including Penny’s father John who was born in 1939 and served in the Royal Navy.

Henry Mordaunt said it is a “complete surprise” to him that his niece is now the clear front-runner among Conservative Party members who will have the final say on who becomes next UK prime minister.

“I disagree with her politics unfortunately, but I would be happy for her if she achieves her ambition,” he said.

“She is the only member of the family, brothers, father, uncles, cousins and others that supported Brexit.”

Mr Mordaunt served as a British army officer between 1961 and his retirement from the army in 1974 having done tours in Germany and Northern Ireland.

“During the Brexit campaign, they would occasionally interview some army general and that general would have spent some time working in Germany along with the French, Belgiums and all the others, They were all very pro-Britain remaining in EU; Penny on the other hand, her link is with the Navy. The Navy keeps people out. Their job is to keep the foreigner away.”

Mr Mordaunt said he and his siblings were brought up by their father as practising Catholics. “We went to church every Sunday. We still do,” he said.

Penny Mordaunt went to a Catholic secondary school in Portsmouth, but it is unclear if she was baptised a Catholic. If she was, she will be the first person to be baptised and brought up as a Catholic to become British prime minister.

Boris Johnson was baptised but not brought up as a Catholic and Tony Blair converted to Catholicism during his premiership. “I don’t know how she would describe herself,” Mr Mordaunt concluded.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times