Today we are proud to welcome writer, poet and raconteur Dermott Hayes to the blog. A proud and dashing Irishman, he would like to share with you the true story of Zorro with whom he – rather unexpectedly – shares his heritage. Over to you, Dermott…
I learned to swash and buckle watching Zorro in the Disney produced tv
series of the same name. It only ran for three seasons between 1957
and 1959 and finally reached my local station sometime in the early
‘60s. Don Diego de la Vega may have been a poetry loving fop but
Zorro, the masked man with the fast horse and a sharp blade, now there
was a hero.
My sword is a flame
to right every wrong
so heed well my name
There was no shortage of small screen heroes then, perfect for
impressionable boys. These shows vied for space and attention in that
narrow coveted window between 5 and 6 o’clock. Heroes like The Lone
Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Robin Hood and Ivanhoe and for the older kids,
Rawhide, Cheyenne, Wells Fargo and Bonanza, abounded.
Zorro was different, though. He was deceptive and cunning, appreciated
the finer things in life, rode a horse, wore a cape and a mask and, to
crown it all, he was an exceptional swordsman.
We made our own masks and fashioned swords from shaved twigs.
But what I didn’t know was he was Irish. Imagine how that might have
played for a six year old Irish kid in a cape and a mask and a broom
for a horse.
That he was a Freemason, too, might not have had the same impact but
for a 60 year old, the bits fall into place and you can see why
Hollywood embraced him.
His real name was William Lamport, a descendant of an old Irish Norman
family who settled in Ireland after the invasion of Richard de Clare,
2nd Earl of Pembroke, in 1170 AD. His family built a castle in
Rosslare, Co Wexford in the south east of Ireland, a location that
gave the family unprecedented control of trade routes to England and
The family were scions of the English ascendancy they came from but
their roots were set in Ireland and, to coin a phrase used by Irish
historians before, became more Irish than the Irish themselves. This
brought them into frequent conflict and rebellion against the forces
of the British Crown who they considered, for all intents and purpose,
invaders. Lamport’s grandfather, Patrick sided with Hugh O’Neill, Earl
of Tyrone at the disastrous Battle of Kinsale in 1601. He was pursued
by Elizabeth’s successor, James 1, until he was caught and arrested in
1617 and executed by the express order of the King.
William was educated by Augustinian and Franciscan monks in Wexford
and later, the Jesuits in Dublin. In 1628 he went to London’s Gresham
College to study. Remarkably, he was only 15 years old. He fled from
England under charges of treason, after writing and publishing a
controversial pamphlet critical of the rule of James I. En route to
France, he was captured by pirates and spent two years with them
before making his way to Spain and aligning himself with exiled
members of the Irish ascendancy. Here, he attended the Colegio de
Ninos Nobles, changed his name to Don Guillen Lombardo and converted
his old pirate friends to Catholicism and loyalty to the Spanish
crown. Within a couple of years he won a scholarship to study at the
Colegio des Irlandeses in Salamanca and, from there, gained the
patronage of the Conde Duque de Olivares, King Philip IV’s principal
minister who sent him from there to the Colegio de San Lorenzo del
Escorial, recognised as the training ground for top level servants to
the Spanish Crown.
Having already distinguished himself during his pirate days for his
part in defeating the British navy at the siege of La Rochelle, Guilem
became a captain in the Spanish army, an advance facilitated by
recognition as the protege of the Conde Duque de Olivares and the
assumption of his family name, Don Guillen Lombardo became Don Guile
Lombardo de Guzman. As a captain in the Spanish royal army, he
acquitted himself with distinction against Sweden at Nordlingen (1634)
and the siege of Fuenterrabia (1638). A short, red haired and handsome
Irishman, well educated (he boasted he could speak 14 languages by the
age of 25) and a Spanish captain, Guillen turned to diplomacy and this
capacity he served at the Belgian court. Here, renowned Flemish
artists, Peter Paul Reubens and Anthony Van Dyck, painted his
Guillen returned to Spain and the service of his Catalonian patron,
Olivares where he continued his activities of diplomacy and espionage.
He was also involved in an Irish plot to put together a second Spanish
armada for the liberation of Ireland. It was during this time too when
he began a liaison with a Spanish noblewoman, Dona Ana de Cano y Leyva
with whom he had a child. The scandal compelled him to flee Spain for
the new world and Mexico. He travelled in the escort fleet of the
newly appoint Spanish viceroy to Mexico, the Marques de Villena and
would later claim he travelled under the express orders of his patron,
Duque Olivares to keep an eye on Villena, a suspected sympathiser to
the Portuguese secession of 1580.
That secession was the first crack in the authority of the mighty
Spanish empire and Olivares was then convinced there was similar
unrest amongst the noblemen of Mexico. On arrival, Guillen befriended
and took up residence with Don Fernando Carrillo, a prominent member
of the Mexican Imperial government and also a leading figure in the
community of Mexican noble families. Through them he became familiar
with local politics. He also befriended the Bishop of Puebla, Juan de
Palafox y Mendoza who was plotting the overthrow of Viceroy Villena.
This got official sanction from Spanish Prime Minister Olivares after
he received a report from Guillen, critical of the viceroy.
Despite this, Guillen was not given a post in the new administration
led by the Bishop of Puebla. He did meet a court petitioner named Don
Ignacio who he helped to frame his petitions and between the two and
their occasional forays with peyote, the hallucinogenic mushroom,
contrived, in 1642, a declaration of Independence for Mexico from the
This was not a traditional coup d’etat style overthrow either.
Guillen’s proposals were a broad plan for sovereignty and a complete
change of regime involving expansive social change. His allies were a
broad coalition of disaffected native born nobles, ex-slaves and
miners. Don Ignacio declared Guillen would be Mexico’s future king but
it would be unlike any other kingdom in existence.
In 1642, Guillen was arrested by The Inquisition on charges of heresy,
associated with his use of the peyote fungus. He spent the following
seventeen years in prison, defending himself against the Inquisition
and writing several treatises, a memoir and 900 psalms, all contrived
with the use of a chicken feather for a quill, ink fashioned from
candle grease and water, his own bedsheets and cigarette papers.
On December 25, 1651, Guillen did manage to perform the impossible by
escaping from the high security prison where he was incarcerated. Free
for just one day, he spent it posting pamphlets denouncing the Spanish
empire and its Mexican imperial government and was re-arrested and
imprisoned. In his last three years he declined into insanity but left
behind an image that was elevated to legendary status by his prison
escape. He was condemned for execution by the Inquisition and burned
at the stake. Guillen had other ideas and managed to throttle himself
with the rope holding him to the stake before it could be set alight.
And that’s where it might have all ended, Guillen Lamport or Don
Guillen Lombardo de Guzman might have been consigned to the footnotes
of history or a mention in a family memoir until Vincente Riva
Palacio, a retired Mexican general, politician and author published
Don Guillen Lombardo: Memoirs of an Imposter in 1872, depicting
Lamport as a foppish poetry spitting dandy by day and a glamourous
swashbuckling swordsman by night. The renewed interest in Lamport also
revived enthusiasm for him as the first hero of Mexican Independence
and a true revolutionary for his radical socio-political ideas. His
statue now sits in a mausoleum beneath the Angel of Independence
alongside the remains of other noted names of Mexico’s revolutionary
And thus, once more, Lamppost rose and just as quickly fell out of the
limelight until 1999 when an Italian historian (Fabio Troncarelli of
Viterbi University) asserted Lamport/Lombardo was the inspiration for
the comic book, tv and film character, Zorro.
There were similarities, certainly. Both were poetry loving gentlemen
who eschewed violence but led double lives as gallant swordsmen who
fought oppression. The character Zorro first appeared in a five
episode serialisation called The Curse of Capistrano in the pulp
fiction magazine All Story Weekly in 1919. It was written by pulp
fiction writer, Johnston McCulley who set most of his stories in
southern California. El Zorro means ‘the fox’ in Spanish and was a
name Riva Palacio gave another of his characters in an earlier novel,
Martin Garatuza, a notorious 17th century conman and aside from the
plot similarities, this was the point Troncarelli used to illustrate
what he claimed was a direct link between Palacio’s 19th century book
about Lamport and McCulley’s El Zorro.
Other writers drew comparisons between McCulley’s hero and The Scarlet
Pimpernel created by Baroness Emmuska Orczy.
Whichever is the truth, the story of William Lamport does lend
credence to the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. There is
another odd angle to the story, suggested by Troncarelli, almost as an
Zorro’s creator, Johnston McCulley was a freemason and the letter ‘Z’
bears particular import for masons being derived from the semitic
word, ziza, a symbol of light to freemason initiates in their struggle
against the forces of oppression and darkness. If nothing else, for
the purpose of a swashbuckling pulp fiction hero, it gave him gravity
and righteous purpose. McCulley’s Zorro story was well received and
within a year the film rights were acquired by Douglas Fairbanks and
led to Zorro’s first appearance on the big screen in 1920’s Mask of
Zorro. Conspiracy theorists will be happy to know Fairbanks was a
Whatever the truth, Zorro was my hero in my youth and even if he’s not
William Lamppost, though I doubt it, at least I’ve gained another
hero, an Irishman of wit, bravery and intelligence who fought against