Peter Berresford Ellis reviews 'The Irish Zorro': the extraordinary adventures of William Lamport (1615-1659), Gerard Ronan, Brandon, ISBN 0 86322329, £16.999/€24.99 hbk
SOME YEARS ago, I came across the story of William Lamport from Wexford, and, having an interest in popular literature, and Johnston McCulley's The Curse of Capistrano (1919), which spawned the superhero Zorro, I was intrigued that he was the basis of the legend
Had McCulley known of Lamport? In 1872 a retired Mexican general Vicente Riva Palacion had written an historical romance about the hero who he called Guillen Lombardo. Lombardo protected the Mexican Indians from exploitation by the Spanish and used the letter `Z' as his symbol - not for Zorro (fox) but for Ziza (shining).
I was delighted to see the appearance of Gerard Ronan's book, which has all the merits of academic, serious research told with the ease and manner of a first class storyteller.
Ronan is a Dublin civil servant but it is clear from his research that he is at home among the Spanish archives and he has even been able to access some of the one thousand unpublished psalms that Lamport wrote before his death.
Ronan deals with Lamport's Jesuit education in Dublin, his flight to Spain, student days at St Patrick's College in La Coruna, his growing reputation as a swordsman and lover and his commission as captain in the Spanish army. He was helping O'Neill raise an Irish army for the uprising in 1641 when the Spanish chief minister, the Duke of Olivaries sent him to Mexico, to report on the untrustworthy Spanish administration.
In Mexico he played the part of the foppish, slightly bored character which McCulley immortalised as Don Diego de la Vega, and became engaged to a rich heiress.
Behind the scenes, Lamport became part of a conspiracy to overthrow Spanish rule. Captured, he escaped from jail and spent seven years fighting for his cause until he was captured again by the Inquisition. On November 19, 1659, he was burnt at the stake in the central square of Mexico City.
But his name and deeds lived on and became the inspiration from many subsequent Mexican uprisings until the last Spanish viceroy of Mexico - another Irishman - Lt General Don Juan O'Donoju accepted Mexican independence.
Ronan's book is not only an excellent history book, it is a great read. Thoroughly recommended.
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Copyright © 2005 Peter Berresford Ellis