Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!

The recent release of a new Zorro movie has rekindled interest in the masked freedom fighter of colonial Mexico. Stars of the big screen Antonio Banderas and Sir Anthony Hopkins are the central characters of the hit film “The Mask of Zorro,” but behind the mask of the real Zorro was an Irish Soldier of Fortune, a native of Wexford.

The masked hero and freedom fighter “Zorro” was the creation of Johnson McCulley, and first appeared in August 1919 as a serial in a pulp fiction journal entitled All-Story Weekly. Originally featured as a 5-part tale entitled “The Curse of Capistrano,” numerous pulp fiction magazines carried the various tales of Zorro between 1922 and 1959, including Argosy, West, Short Stories for Men and Cavalier Classics. The character of Zorro, and his alter-ego Don Diego de la Vega, hit the big screen in 1920, embodied by Douglas Fairbanks who created a sensation in The Mark of Zorro, an adaptation of “The Curse of the Capistrano,” which today remains as one of the great classics of the silent era. Two decades later, Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone starred in a successful sound remake of The Mark of Zorro.

Zorro also appeared in 1937 in Republic’s first color film, The Bold Caballero. Zorro was a character born for serial treatment, and Republic wasted no time in making the twelve chapter film serial Zorro Rides Again, which was followed by eight more Zorro serials over the next five years.

In 1957, Walt Disney introduced the Zorro television series, starring Guy Williams. The series, which had the highest budget of any Western to date, was meticulously produced and was one of the most popular shows of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This sparked a merchandising mania at the time, as is well known to toy and comic collectors of today. During the 1960s and 1970s, numerous Zorro movies were made in Europe. The most notable was Zorro, starring Alain Delon as the masked hero in a French-Italian co-production, followed by yet another remake of The Mark of Zorro in 1974, starring Frank Langella as Zorro for U. S. television.

In the 1980s, Zorro continued to create new generations of fans with the animated series The New Adventures of Zorro, which aired on CBS Saturday mornings from 1981-1983. In 1981, George Hamilton starred in the feature film, Zorro, the Gay Blade. Disney produced the 1982 television series Zorro and Son for CBS. Both The Gay Blade and Zorro and Son spoofed the character.

Zorro entered the 1990s stronger than ever. Eighty-eight episodes of a new live action TV series, co-produced by New World Television (U.S.), Ellipse (France), and RAI (Italy), premiered in the very first week of the decade and has since aired in over 50 countries around the world. Fifty-two episodes of lower budget animated series were released through Mondo TV of Italy in 1992. In the same year, Disney hopped on the Zorro bandwagon by using state-of-the-art computer techniques to colorize all 78 episodes of its classic Zorro series. It now plays in the United States on the Disney Channel and in many countries around the world.

In February of 1995, a musical stage version of Zorro by Ken Hill opened in London to rave reviews. New stage productions are in development. A comprehensive hour long history of Zorro was produced by the Arts & Entertainment Biography series. The show premiered on June 25, 1996 and will be shown repeatedly through 1998.

But the secret of the dashing Hispanic swordsman was that he was an Irish gentleman of noble birth named William Lamport, born in 1615 in County Wexford. William hailed from a Catholic family, and left Ireland during the confederate conflict as a result of oppressive English rule. He worked for a while as a privateer, attacking Englishmen merchantmen of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. In 1643 he enlisted in one of the three Irish regiments in Spanish service (O’Neill, O’Donnell and Fitzgerald) to fight against the French forces in Spanish Flanders. He was commended for bravery and entered Spanish Royal service.

Assuming the name “Guillen Lombardo” he went to the then-Spanish colony of Mexico. Once in Mexico he developed a sympathy for the poor and native Indians. He lived amongst them studying astrology and their healing skills. For this he came to the notice of the Spanish Inquisition, which under the guise of religious “correctness” hunted out enemies of the King of Spain. William became the leader of the fledgling Mexican independence movement. His name occurs time and time again in reports of Inquisitors gathering information by torture of suspected rebels. William was noted for a series of steamy affairs with Spanish noblewomen, both married and unmarried. He became engaged to Antonia Turcious, a member of the nobility, but before he could marry he was arrested by the Inquisition and accused of conspiracy against Spain and its Most Catholic Majesty. He was jailed for 10 years, but escaped from his dungeon and emerged only at night to daub the walls of Mexico City with his name and anti-Spanish graffiti.

William was arrested in 1652 when found in the bed of the wife of the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, Marquis Lope Diez de Caderyta. He was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, at the end of which he was turned over to the Inquisition to be burnt at the stake as a heretic. In 1659 He was tied to the stake in Mexico City, but as the bundles of brush and wood were lit, he undid the ropes that bound him and strangled himself before the flames could reach him.