First painted on January 5, 1969, the iconic slogan was originally produced by Liam Hillen.
The man who first painted "You Are Now Entering Free Derry" on one of the city's walls has died. Liam Hillen passed away on Christmas Day, aged 69.
He had first painted the phrase on the gable end of a house on Lecky Road in the city’s Bogside area of Derry in the early hours of January 5, 1969. The action came after local activists made efforts to secure the nationalist and Catholic Bogside area following an incursion by the Royal Irish Constabulary.
The residents subsequently built barricades around the Bogside to prevent the RUC from entering and the "Free Derry" area became an autonomous nationalist zone until 1972.
Hillen had recalled the event in an interview with The Derry Journal in 2008.
“It was three o’clock in the morning on January 5, 1969 [just hours after the repeatedly-attacked People’s Democracy march had arrived in Derry]. Somebody told us we had to watch out because the B-Specials were apparently ready to move into the Bogside. We were walking towards Fox’s Corner and I happened to see this house with a light coming from the living room," he told the Journal.
“Myself, Eamonn McCann and a few others went inside to get a bit of a heat. I said to Eamonn: ‘Do you know something, I am fed up standing around doing nothing’.He said to me, ‘why don’t you put a slogan up on the wall’. A few suggestions included, ‘We Demand Free Beer’ and ‘RUC Out’. Eamonn then said: ‘Why don’t you write: you are now entering Free Derry. There was a young boy with us and he told us that his granny lived nearby so off we went and got some paint.
“When we came back, I remember saying to McCann, ‘Is there one or two rs in entering?’ That was when I painted, ‘You Are Now Entering Free Derry’ on the gable end. It was perfect.
“I think it was a few months later that the Defence Association commissioned ‘Caker’ Casey to paint over my slogan but I was the first person to write the words on the wall.”
Activist Eamonn McCann was among those who paid tribute to Hillen.
“Liam made a significant contribution to the way the civil rights period is remembered today," he said.
“Liam is the man who first wrote, 'You Are Now Entering Free Derry,' on a gable wall in the Bogside, early on the morning of January 5, 1969. I spoke last week to some of those still around about what sort of ceremony or gathering at Free Derry Wall would be suitable for marking the 50th anniversary. But it wasn’t to be.
“I feel it important to acknowledge Liam’s role because, on account of a misunderstanding, I failed to do so when my book, ‘War And An Irish Town,’ was first issued in 1974. The book was republished just a month ago. A preface to the new edition tries to set the record straight:
"'Sometimes inaccuracies which seemed too trivial to matter turn out to matter very much to somebody. I attributed the writing on a gable wall of the slogan, "You Are Now Entering Free Derry," to Bogside activist ‘Caker Casey’. A few years ago, I was approached in a city center pub by a man saying, "I have a bone to pick with you, McCann." He introduced himself as Liam Hillen. It was he who had inscribed the slogan, he insisted. "Do you not remember me coming over to you and asking, 'Is there one r or two rs in entering?' In a flash, the memory came back.'
“Free Derry Wall has assumed iconic status in the meantime, reproduced on hundreds of artifacts and souvenir items, from dish-cloths to designer garments to pieces of art and political banners. It’s right that Liam’s role should be acknowledged.”