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St. Patrick's Day Legends -- Zorro the Irish Fox

Updated on February 7, 2023
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

In many ways, music saved my life, and I have the most famous director of the USMC bands to thank for it!


A Fox in the 21st Century

Zorro means "fox" and the legendary masked man in black with a sword was truly a fox like his 18th Century counterpart in the American Revolution: The Swamp Fox, Francis Marion.

Both men lived, were recorded in history, and were heroes like Robin Hood, who helped the unjustly treated members of society.

Previous to the very end of the 20th Century, many thought that Zorro was a symbolic mythological hero, or a character portrayed by Antonio Banderos in the movies. However, he was a real man that might be linked to any of a several men in history, including William Lamport and Joaquín Murrieta Orozco

The Irish moved to an area in South America as well as to North America and other nations, primarily during and after the Great Famine, but in small numbers. However, Zorro was likely an Irish Catholic transplant to England and then to Spain, served in its Irish military forces in the early 1600s, and then served in Mexico.

Zorro was likely an immigrant to Mexico from the U.K.
Zorro was likely an immigrant to Mexico from the U.K.

Archival Records

In January 1999 it was reported in the Irish Independent News by Nicola Anderson that an Italian History Professor, Fabio Troncarelli of Viterbo University in Italy, had discovered that Zorro was Irish. The academic had examined the Vatican files of the Inquisition and found Zorro in their pages, but he was not called Zorro.

The professor stated that a man by the name of William Lamport, an Irishman, appeared in the Inquisition Files. He wore a red beard, carried a sword, wore a mask, and aided the downtrodden Mexicans and Indians that longed for independence. He also appeared in the I-Files as a swashbuckler, adventurer, and womanizer.

The story is the stuff of pirate movies –

In Spain

Born in 1615, William was schooled by the Jesuit denomination in Dublin, Ireland and then London. Very unhappy in England, he went to sea and joined a band of pirates. This was likely because he was arrested in 1627 for distributing Catholic literature, considered an act of sedition in London, but escaped.

The Vatican chronicles show that William fought the French on the side of Spain and received commendation from King Philip IV in 1634. Spanish records indicate that in 1633 at age 18, he helped form and build the O'Neill Regiment of the three Irish regiments of Spain (O’Neill, O’Donnell and Fitzgerald Regiments). He then took the Spanish version of his name: Guillén Lombardo, which appears in an 1872 historical fiction as Zorro.

In the New World

Unfortunately, William was shipped to Mexico after the unsatisfactory end to a relationship with a Spanish noblewoman; but, he was also sent there to spy for the Spanish government in order to prevent Mexican Independence. However, the Irishman with a Spanish name became acquainted with the Native Mexican Nations (Indians) in Mexico and began to study their medicine and cultures.

The Inquisition finally charged him with conspiring to free Back slaves, aiding Native Americans and Mexican Indians against Spain, and planning to become king of an independent Mexico. The I-Files show that he served more than one prison sentence in Mexico and was to be burned at the stake. The final event that may not be clearly confirmed is that he strangled himself before his execution could be accomplished.

The introduction of Zorro as a literaty character, August 1919 (image in the public domain).
The introduction of Zorro as a literaty character, August 1919 (image in the public domain).

Records held in the Spanish archives of its 17th Century Irish regiments show that William fought for them and for the French as well, and against the Huguenots and the Swedish. In 1642, William was planning to marry a Mexican noblewoman named Antonia Turcious.

At this point, the Inquisition arrested him, sentencing him to 10 years in prison. He escaped in 1650 and was later recaptured but had time to post anti-Inquisition literature and graffiti on the walls all over Mexico City. His "Z" was for the Spanish word for shining or similar, likely meaning the light of truth and freedom.

In 1659 the Inquisition sentenced him to death. Many additional tales of sexual dalliance and roguish adventures are unconfirmed.

Antique Mexican sword.
Antique Mexican sword. | Source

Alternate Thoughts

Word is that Irish historian Declan Downey examined the work of Troncarelli and felt skeptical. It is his contention from his own research that the Catholic Lamports lived in England until the end of the 16th Century, when the government required Irish landowners to convert to Protestantism. Dr. Downey believes the Lamports went to Spain and/or William spent most of his childhood there.

Other sources call William a child genius that was born to a seafaring family in County Wexford, Ireland. By 1636, he supposedly spoke 14 languages, making him well able to function in a number of societies. Historical and government records confirm that William Lamport authored the first Declaration of Independence in the West Indies, which contained a promise of land reform, equal opportunity, racial equality, and a democratically elected monarch in the 17th Century, over 100 years before the American Revolution.rish.

The Path of Zorro

Oral traditions globally involved characters like Robin Hood and the Swamp Fox. Those in South America, particularly Argentina, involved Zorro and leapt into print:

  • In 1854, John Ridge, a second-generation Cherokee, wrote a dime novel about the character.
  • Vicente Riva Palacion, wrote a historical fiction in 1872 about a hero named Guillén Lombardo. This hero championed Native Mexicans against Spain and spread anti-Inquisition graffiti with the letter Z for Ziza, Spanish for "shining."
  • In 1919 Johnston McCulley wrote a pulp fiction Zorro tale called The Curse of Capistrano in All Story Weekly, which later merged with Argosy. The series lasted 40 years, appearing in various such magazines.
  • After the first Zorro story, McCulley added pirates and Native Americans, not likely a coincidence -- McCulley was not only a police reporter, but also a history buff. Some researchers think he found a copy of the 1854 or 1872 novelization.
  • Many publications in the 20th and 21s centuries feature the Mexican/Irish legends.

From the print media, Zorro advanced to film, where Douglas Fairbanks first starred in the 1920 movie version of Capistrano, called The Mark of Zorro. Non-Hispanics and non-Irish actors have portrayed Zorro since that time. Alain Delon starred as the hero later in a European film and that star's name could well be Irish. A number of films followed, including Zorro, the Gay Blade, starring George Hamilton.

One of the best-known television adaptations of the legends is Walt Disney's Zorro in the late 1950s.

Edward James Olmos will direct "Murrieta' in 2023-2024.

The Compelling Evidence

Zorro has been linked to several real men, reportedly Portuguese, Chilean, and Mexican highwaymen. A Native American or Native Mexican known as Estanislao in the 1820s is also tapped as Zorro by some historians.

Two dozen individuals have some characteristic(s) or history of action that might have led to the creation of the legend, but the evidence gathered in the Vatican by Troncarelli, and in Spanish archives by Irish researcher and author Gerard Ronan is compelling.

Ronan took his findings in Spain and the Vatican histories of the Inquisition and wrote 2004 biography of William Lamport, titled The Irish Zorro: the extraordinary adventures of William Lamport (1615-1659).

Ronan is an Irish civil servant; and interestingly, the last Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, whose independence Lamport championed, was also Irish: Lt General Don Juan O'Donoju.


  • Acosta, J.L.B., Prof. Joaquín Murrieta Orozco. The bandit – patriot. Taller de Historia de Tecate, A. C.; 2021.

  • Allende, Isabel. Zorro. 2005, in Chile. (A prequel to the 1919 McCulley story.)
  • Anderson, Nicola. Real Zorro unmasked as Wexford womanizer. Irish Independent News. January 30, 1999.
  • Association of Descendants of Joaquin Murrieta

  • McCulley, Johnston. The Zorro stories of 1919 to 1959. (Note: the last story appeared in Short Story Magazine, April 1959, posthumously, after Walt Disney’s television Zorro starring Guy Williams was well known.
  • Ronan, Gerard. The Irish Zorro: the extraordinary adventures of William Lamport (1615-1659). 2004. Brandon Publishing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


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