Thanks to a few films starring Antonio Banderas, most people are familiar with the legend of Zorro, but did you know that the real-life Zorro was likely an Irishman? 

Wexford man William Lamport was an Irish Catholic adventurer, also known as Don Guillén de Lampart (or Lombardo) y Guzmán in Mexico.

He claimed to be a bastard son of King Philip III of Spain and, therefore, the half-brother of King Philip IV, and even maintained this story when faced with a trial for sedition before the Spanish Inquisition in 1659. For his apparent crimes, he was sentenced to burn at the stake but escaped that fate by taking his own life via hanging. 

Why he stuck to this story is unclear, as his brother would later set the story straight.

Lamport was a member of a Catholic merchant family, and he traveled to Spain to be schooled education of Catholics was forbidden in Ireland by the 17th-century Penal Laws.

Traveling the world, he became a pirate for two years, took part in various battles and conflicts, and worked his way around the highest circles of political power in Spain, attracting the attention of women as he went, much like his literary counterpart.

He traveled to New Spain (now Mexico and Central America) claiming he was collecting information for the Spanish crown. While there Lamport decided he wanted to overthrow the Viceroy and attempted to persuade Indians, blacks and creole merchants to join him in an uprising.

He invested his trust in the wrong person, however. He told his friend Captain Méndez, who handed him over to the Inquisition. Although not normally under their remit – dealing with a man who was also Catholic – the Inquisition imprisoned the Irishman and he spent 17 years there before being charged with heresy.

With the Inquisition attempting to force Catholicism on the rest of the world, it’s surprising so many Catholic Irish - as many as 500 - were put on trial, with two Irish men even successfully put to death.

Lamport's is one of several names that have been suggested as the inspiration behind the famous Zorro, but it’s easy to see why he would be compared to the fictional character.

Created by writer Johnston McCulley, Zorro appeared for the first time in his 1919 story "The Curse of Capistrano" as the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, a Californio nobleman living in Los Angeles during the era of Mexican rule. A dashing black-clad figure wearing a mask, Zorro defends the commoners and indigenous peoples of the land against tyrannical officials and other villains.

McCulley wrote 60 more Zorro stories, and the character was later used in a Disney series, and in several big-screen adaptations.

H/T: Irish Times