Free Derry Corner

Location

In 1969, 33 Lecky Road, the last house in the row, recently abandoned by a family of three generations of McKanes, had a gable wall overlooking a piece of vacant ground known then as Kitty Kane’s Corner (after the mother McKane from the previous generation), or Fox’s Corner (Irish Central | Derry City | Derry Journal).

Here is an aerial image of the Bogside (taken from the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, as presented here). The view is looking northeast; the river Foyle is visible at the top, the walls of the old city run from top to bottom just to the right of centre, and the steep grassy slope that sweeps down to the Bogside is in the bottom centre.

On the left of the image, Lecky Road runs from the bottom of the image up to the middle. The old houses of Lecky Road, beginning with number 33, are still in place (they would be demolished in the mid-70s), with the vacant ground at their top end. The vacant ground was created when the low odd numbers of Lecky Road were removed during the Bogside’s redevelopment.

(Details of the redevelopment. Moving clockwise from the left, from Free Derry Corner/the vacant ground: Lisfannon Park flats were built to the left (replacing the low even numbers of Lecky Road and Nelson and Wellington streets); Glenfada Park flats were built above Fahan Street; crossing Rossville St, Rossville flats replaced the cattle market; and St Joseph’s flats (the smaller flats below Rossville flats) were built where Fahan Street used to turn west. Fahan Street runs along the walls diagonally through the middle-right of the image above and then used to go directly north-west; in this image it wraps around the bottom of the flats in St Joseph’s Place before heading north-west (which appears as almost due west in the image above). The road that continues the southward direction of Fahan Street is St Columb’s Wells, parallel to Lecky Road.)

Some sources give “Columb’s Street” as the address of Free Derry Corner, perhaps intending “St Columb’s Street” which is given in Eamonn McCann’s War And An Irish Town. Maps of the time (1969) appear to show Fahan Street and Lecky Road intersecting (after the flats in Joseph Place were built) but perhaps St Columb’s Street is the span at the end of Fahan Street between Lecky Road and St Columb’s Wells. There are no longer any houses here and Free Derry Corner is generally described as being on Lecky Road. (Please get in touch if you can explain “St Columb’s Street”.)

Early History: The Slogan

The original, hand-written, January 5th, 1969, version of “You are now entering Free Derry” was done by Liam Hillen. Hillen tells the story like this:
“We were standing around there, it must have been two or three in the morning, heating ourselves up, and I said to Eamonn McCann, “Jesus, I am fed up standing around here doing nothing.”
And Eamonn turned around and said, “Why don’t you go and paint a sign on that gable wall over there?” I asked what we should we paint up, and guys made suggestions like “We Demand Free Beer” and various other things. Then McCann turned round and said, “Why don’t you stick up “You are now entering Free Derry”?” I said, “That’s it, we’ll stick that up,” and turned round and said, “Anybody know where I can get some paint and a brush?” And this wee fella standing on the right-hand side of me said his aunt lived up the street a bit.
So we went and found a can of yellow paint and a can of blue paint, anything else didn’t have much in it. I remembered that yellow and blue made green, so I mixed them together. I got this old hard brush and me and the wee boy walked back down to the corner and up to the gable wall. Big Danny Begley was about six foot tall so he leaned up against the wall with his hands interlocked and gave me a lift up. Chris Armstrong held the paint and I dipped into it.”
(Derry Journal) (Hillen died on Christmas Day, 2018 – Derry Journal.)
Free Derry Corner was born.
Slogan with oak leaf (obscured on left); without “Vote McCann” or “Hume for Derry”.

(Unattributed image)
Slogan with oak leaf on left, with “Vote McCann” above, and “Hume for Derry” on right.
1969 FDC – Pathé
Slogan with oak leaf on left, with “Vote McCann” above, and “Hume for Derry” on right.

(Image from Free Derry Museum, perhaps taken by Jim Davies)
According to the Derry JournalWar And An Irish Town, and The Bogside Artists, the inspiration for the slogan was the U.S. civil rights movement and student protests at the University Of California, Berkeley. McCann states that he had seen footage of the protests, including a placard stating “You Are Now Entering Free Berkeley” (Derry Now). There do not appear to be any images on-line of the phrase in connection with the ‘Free Speech’ movement of the mid-60s or People’s Park in 1969.
(Another possible influence is “free” radio stations. On January 10th, at 7 pm, a transmitter that had been smuggled in from the Republic began broadcasting under the name “Radio Free Derry” (DigWithIt) with the words “This is the first free radio Derry has ever known …” “Free” in this context means “not state-controlled”, as was claimed for Radio Free Europe (begun in 1949) and Radio Free Asia (begun in 1951), both US-sponsored broadcasts to communist countries.)
(Culture Northern Ireland says the slogan is an imitation of signs at the East-West Berlin border, but does so without attribution or citation.)
Early History: First “Block” Lettering
John “Caker” Casey did the more professional version in August, ahead of a visit by UK Home Secretary James Callaghan on August 28th — black block letters on a whitewashed background.
(unattributed image)
Here is a still taken from video of Callaghan’s visit, from the BBC documentary No Go (at 7m 26s). RTÉ also has video of Callaghan being applauded in the Bogside, at 9m 50s, and the crowd is then shown singing “We Shall Overcome”. (Casey died in 2000 – FindAGrave.)

And here is a 1971 shot of the gable wall at street level:

(Unattributed image. A similar image appears in this Derry Journal article.)

“Care-Free Derry”
(Guildhall Press image possibly by Barney McMonagle)

The word “care” was then papered over by a poster reading “Strike Now! Against Internment”

(Still from a YouTube video.)

John Hume (fourth from left) sitting by a fire on the vacant ground, February 1972. Hume’s grandparents and their children (including Hume’s mother, Anne Doherty) lived in the row of houses on Lecky Road (YouTube). The graffiti on the wall has been painted over.Hume at a early morning demonstration in Derry, 1972. Photograph: Watford/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty
(Watford/Getty)

Here is a shot of the wall in 1972. The words “Free Derry” are now in white, on black squares.
(1972 M00075 and in this condition in 1973-08 | Stones Speak 1m14s, 1m 20s)

Early History: The Wall
The houses were demolished in 1975 but the gable wall was retained (Derry Journal: 1974 discussions | 1975 final decision).

Here is an image from 1976. The wall, including the “Free Derry” part of the slogan (and perhaps all of the slogan), has been repainted.

(1976 M00077)

A Derry Journal article from 1976 reports a petition of 154 signatures claiming that the wall is unsafe.

An image from 1978 with the wall surrounded by fencing.
(1978 M00076) (Victor Patterson also has an image of the fenced-in wall from 1978.Stones Speak 0m43s)

The fence was removed and the slogan re-painted in chunky lettering.
(1981 possibly dating to 1979 M00078 | Stones Speak 2m06s)

John Hume at the repainted FDC, with improvements to the ground around it.
FreeDerryJohnHume
(unattributed image)

Early History: “Sans-serif” lettering
This 1986 image (below) shows the wall now with an apex and buttresses, and a flagpole.
(See Stones Speak 3m29s. It is not known who or what is responsible for the renovation of the wall – please get in touch if you know.)
A new, full-size slogan in sans-serif font is painted on the gable. The old maisonettes are still standing in the background.


(1986 M00389)

This version stood for a number of years (see 1987) though it was paint-bombed (1989) and cleaned on various occasions (one, two, three).
(1989 M00639)

Some time between 1990 and 1994 the slogan (in sans-serif lettering) was first “augmented” in the sense that other elements were added to the wall, either painted or attached.
One image from this period (pre-The Petrol Bomber) shows a rainbow. Painted by Arlene Wege.
FDC rainbow
(unattributed image | M01098 Sinn Féin collection | Stones Speak 10m07s)
Another shows a board in the apex with the words “Johnny Walker”. (Stones Speak 9m42s)
Early History: “Skinny” lettering
In 1994, around the time that The Petrol Bomber (the first mural by the Bogside Artists) and the 25th anniversary mural for the Battle of the Bogside were painted beside it, the gable was painted bright red and the slogan painted in a skinny serif font in yellow.
(1994 M01112 D00477 D00476)
For unknown reasons, this did not last long.
“No RUC” added to a black-on-white wall (and also to The Petrol Bomber)
(1995 M01174 D00478)
With a green ribbon for the ‘free the political prisoners’ campaign
(1995 M01252)
Green ribbon and celebrating volunteer/’sniper at work’
(1996 M01267 J0029)
199x Ribbon + sniper + Kurdish flag (M05512)
199x “Sam You Are Now Entering Free Derry” (Stones Speak 7m23s)
1995? “Saoirse” with dripping blood (Stones Speak 2m52s)
The mostly-restored wall after Saoirse:

M07593+
(unattributed M07593)

1997-01: 14 small flagpole holders were added to the rear for a black-flag commemoration of Bloody Sunday.
FDC black flags
(Unattributed image)

Early History: “Uneven-Y” lettering
The new lettering still has serifs but is thicker than previously (1998)
Here with a black ribbon (for Bloody Sunday):
(1998 M01385 Also seen with the 14 flags thejournal.ie)
(1999 M02110)
Perhaps in 2000, upon his death 2000-09-18: “Caker Casey Was Here January 5th 1969” graffiti. (The original was in fact by Liam Hillen.)
2001, again with a black ribbon
(2001 M01405 M01408 D01339)
In the snow
(2001 M01568)
Flying a Palestinian flag
(2002 M01612)

Also with the uneven-Y lettering:
2003 “Bush Not Welcome” (M02042 M02043 pinterest)
200x “McCann’s Your Man – Vote no 1” graffiti (M05510)
200x with black ribbon and ?’Rosemary Nelson’? sash (Stones Speak 9m51s)

[The chronological history of the wall will resume after we take a break to discuss the wall’s influence around the world.]

Influence
The slogan as used in Derry (along with the iconic gable-end wall) has become an inspiration to other protest movements around the world.

Free Dheisheh, West Bank (2010)
Free Garbatella, Rome (2010) See also Cestandrea.

(Amy’s Notes)

Free Baiona, Galicia (Spain) (2016)

Free Brooklyn, Baltimore (2017)
A mural on the side of O'Flynn's Crab & Cask House in Brooklyn reads, "You are now entering Free Brooklyn."
(Baltimore Sun)
Free Errekaleor, Basque Country (2018)
File:"You are now entering free Errekaleor" murala Errekaleorren.jpg
(WP) See also Free Deustu.
“You are now entering free Cap[itol] Hill” (2020 protests in Seattle in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.)

Later History: “Normal appearance” lettering

The wall was repaired (in 2003/2004 – see Stones Speak 3m09s, 3m13s, 3m23s) and the slogan repainted.
We will refer to this lettering (just below) as “normal appearance” in what follows as this style of lettering has persisted until the present day (2021).
(2004 M02135)

200x “Iraq – troops out. Vote McCann” graffiti (NWPressPics date given is 2000-03 but the lettering is normal appearance)

2005-01 background of Palestine flag (BBC)
2005 normal appearance
M02641+(M02641)

2006 “Wear A Black Shamrock” stencil on buttress
M02759+
(M02759)

2007-01 with Toussaint l’Ouverture on right buttress, Mairéad Farrell on the left (as you look at the wall)

2007-07 Pink background for the first time, for “Foyle Pride”

(M03932)

2007-08 with black ribbon
2007-12 with Christmas hat (pinterest)

2008-07-26 and 2008-07-27 “Vision of the Future” by “Non Stop” graffiti artists from Switzerland (BBC)
2008-08 with “Civil Rights” oak leaves (Tovey)
2009-01 “Free Gaza” – warplane bombs pram (indymedia)
2009-02 “You are now entering free Gaza” – remnants of previous (geograph)
2009-10 Derry To Gaza – blockade trip (indymedia)
2010-01 eyes (for ‘Set the truth free’ Bloody Sunday campaign) (Clare Courier)
2010-04 Set The Truth Free (Barnes)
2010-05 “One World 28 – 30 May” blue, pink, green, red hands (Flickr)
2010-06 No More Bloody Sundays

(M05856)

2010-08 “Not for sale” (indymedia)
2010-08 “Free Derry” in rainbow colours (Flickr)

2011-02 flying pride rainbow flag
M06381+
(M06381)

2011-?? flying large Tricolour

M06521+(M06521 M06522)

(circa Easter)
M06630+
(M06630)
2011-06 Ballymurphy Massacre flyer
M06843+
(M06843)
2011-07 Release Brendan Lillis posters
M07108+
(M07108)
2011-08 Cosmos
M07260+
(M07260 [M07232] [M07234])

2011-08 Cosmos with “Support the POWs” graffiti M07285+
(M07285)

2011-08-17 normal appearance (with Mickey Devine 30th poster)M07444+
(M07444. M07441 shows Cosmos being painted out)

2012-03 Free Marian Price lime-green posters
M07988+
(M07988)

2012-03 “International Women’s Day – interned and isolated” – Marian Price posters (pommietravels)
2012-04-03 Stan Petrov graffiti (Derry Journal)

2012-04 red and black background (Flickr)
2012-06 Free Political Prisoners (Latuff)
M08306+
(M08306)
2012-09 RIP Alan Ryan (pinterest)
2012-09 flying a Cuban flag
M08898+
(M08898)
2012-11 roughly “Never Again” Savita Halappanavar posters
[The area in front of the wall is done in pavers]
2013-03 “Two snakes too many – end internment” St Patrick – Theresa Villiers – David Ford
M09211+
(M09211 | McLaughlin)

2013-04 Ding dong, the witch is dead (Thatcher) + “Two snakes too many – end internment” (Whorriskey)

2013-04 “Thatcher’s dead – let’s bury greed with her” “Ding dong, the witch is dead”
M09430+
(M09430 M09431 M09432)
2013-05 flying a black flag
M09532+
(M09532)
2013-06 “You are now entering the final stage of the Walled City Marathon 2013”

(X05235)
2013-06 “RUC not welcome in Bogside – BRY” (Menzies)
2013-06 flying a green, white and black flag
M09633+
(M09633)
2013-06-07 or 08 “You are now entering Colmville” (BBC)
2013-06-21 flying AOH flag (Flickr)
2013-07 Kai Wiedenhöfer photo of Occupied Territories wall with Spanish Civil War flag
M10075+
(M10075 M10076 M10077)

2013-07 fleadhcheoil.ie

M10154+(M10154. M10245 shows faint “culture theft” stencil at bottom)

2013-08 pink background M10278+
(M10278 [M10378])

2013-09 allianceforchoiceni.org (broadsheet.ie)
2013-09 Derry To Athens: No Pasarán (El Norte De Irlanda)
2013-10 “Remember Savita – abortion rights now!” graffiti (Derry Anarchists)
2013-12 Mandela (Whorriskey)

2014-04 the plaster on the wall is replaced

2014-05 DEED – Derry Engages and Empowers Dementia
M11003+
(M11003)

2014-05 JFTC2 + RIP Oscar Knox (Whorriskey)
2014-06 “Gerry Conlon 1954-2014 fighting injustice until the end” (Checchi)

2014-07-12 “End Genocide In Gaza” – tears of blood
M11227+
(M11227)

2014-07 “The forgotten cancer” paulscampaign.com sarcoma awareness (N&SF Flickr)
2014-07 normal appearance
M11293+
(M11293)

2014-07-29 “End Genocide In Gaza” – Bakr children with Palestinian flag
At first without names
M11297+
(M11297 M11298 M11299 M11300)

then (2014-08) with names M11319+

(M11319 M11320)

2014-09 Free Scotland (
broadsheet.ie)

2015-01 Hand Up Don’t Shoot – Derry – Palestine – Ferguson (Younge)
2015-06 “Now The Craigavon 2”
M11699+
(M11699 M11700 M11701 M11702; Miossec)

2015- Paul’s Campaign – sarcoma awareness – “wear the colour yellow” poem with Plough In The Stars flag
M12594+
(M12594 M12595 M12596 M12597)

2015-?? three posters Maghaberry – brutality – isolation
M12814+
(M12814)

2015-08-28 “Queer Icons – Foyle Gay Pride” – flying rainbow flag
M12820+
(M12820 M12821 | Derry Journal)

2015-09 “Smash fortress Europe – no one is illegal” with ‘RIP Aylan’
M12831+
(M12831 M12832. M12833 Aylan)

2015-12 “Don’t Mourn – Organise” Joe Hill
M12898+
(
faded M12898 M12899 | see tripadvisor)
2016-01-11 RIP Paddy Bogside (irishnews.com)
2016-01-31 flying ‘Irish Republic’ flag
M12913+
(M12913)

2016-03 flyers for March 28th Easter commmoration
M12964+
(M12946)

2016-05 “JFT96” (Hillsborough) (Cottrell-Boyce)
2016-05 and 06 James Connolly centenary quote

(M013698 X03602)

2016-08-04 “Paul’s Campaign – Sarcoma Cancer Awareness” (Hendrickson)
2016-08-11 Edward Daly posters
M13947+
(M13947 | Derry Journal)

2016-08-27 “You are now entering – use a condom”
M14015+
(M14015 | NewsWireNI)

2016-11 “Fidel Castro 1926-2016” (
tripadvisor)
2016-11 flying Cuban flag (An Phoblacht)

2017-01 Rojava Revolution (Derry Now)
2017-02 You are noT entering free Derry (Saoradh | Stones Speak 4m51s)
2017-03 Free AFA Prisoners
M14713+
(M14713)

2017-04-01 Easter Commemoration Saoradh (Murney)
2017-04 Benefit Cuts Kill
M14744+
(M014744)

2017-04 éistígí sticker
M14824+
(M14824)

2017-05 Solidarity With Palestine – Saoradh (Flickr)
2017-06 Relay For Life (Huffer)

2017-08 “We Have The Rainbow” – LGBTQ ransom note
M15233+
(Bradley | BelTel)
2017-08 Take Our Wood? BRY (irishnews)
2017-09 Catalonia Resist (Flickr)
2017-10 lit up in Catalonian flag (Derry Journal)
2017-11 #worldwithoutwalls #BDS (McCaffery)
2018 Swedish flag (for World Cup match England v Sweden) (irp1916)
2018-05 Palestine flag
M15943+
(M15943 | Irish Times)
2018-07 With photos
M15961+
(M15961)

2018-07 yellow for Paul’s Campaign (Derry Journal)
2018-09 Pink in preparation for organ donation campaign
M16081+
(M16081 |BBC-NI | Derry Journal)

2018-09 Derry Girls Against Borders (
WaPo)

2019-03 “Fairtrade Derry” (Telegraph)
2019-03 #Think32 (tw)
2019-03 “#Think32” + “No justice, no peace” graffiti (Alamy | BBC)
2019-04 “#NotInOurName – RIP Lyra” (tw)
2019-06 Heroes Of Stonewall (tw)
2019-07 Sarcoma yellow (tw)
2019-07/08 Soldier F graffiti
2019-09 Is Deontóir Mé (organ donation) (Derry Journal)
2019-09 You Are Now Entering Extinction (tw)
2020-03 NHS ‘The people of Derry thank you” (tw)
2020-04 NHS “We support all our key workers”
07043 2020-04-23 FDC NHS wings+
(
X07043)

2020 As 2020-04 above with yellow background
2020-08 Justice For Noah [Donohoe] with small John Hume memorial
07485 2020-08-30 FDC Noah 2+
(X07485)

2020-08 The 2020 Hunger Strikers (John Hume now on side)
07618 2020-09-28 FDC HS 3+
(X07618)

2020-09 Yes I Donate
07568 2020-09-22 FDC Deontóir+
(X07568)
2021-03 A Woman’s Place Is In The Revolution
07985 2021-03-23 Womens Revolution FDC+
(X07985)