In 1969, 33 Lecky Road, the last house in the row and 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). (Possibly also known as 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.
Here is another image from the period, taken from the west. Free Derry Corner is in the middle of the picture:
Although the wall (when first painted) was the gable of 33 Lecky Road, the very short street between Lecky Road and St Columb’s Wells, (with, in the image above, six chimneys to the right of Free Derry Corner) is St Columb’s Street. As there are no longer any houses here, Free Derry Corner is now generally described as being on Lecky Road.
Early History: The Slogan
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.)
(Image from Free Derry Museum, perhaps taken by Jim Davies X09171)
“Care-Free Derry” with faded “traitor” above the slogan
(Guildhall Press image possibly by Barney McMonagle X09175 | see also Larry Doherty X05314)
The word “care” was then papered over by a poster reading “Strike Now! Against Internment”
(Still from a YouTube video X09177 | see also X05258 and X05279 by Leonard Freed)
To this poster more were added: above ‘Strike now’ were two posters “Here comes the judge, jury, executioner” and “Don’t let them take any more – man your barricade” and above the “RY” of “Derry” “Don’t fraternise with the working class” and “Workers’ control – not army control”; there were also “Workers’ unity with McCann” stencils. (Barbey’s image shows the slogan being repainted. X05283)
Here is a 1971 shot of the gable wall at street level. The graffiti on the wall has been painted over.
(1971 Unattributed X09240 X09176 X09178 X09179 X09180. A similar image appears in this Derry Journal article.)
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).
(1972 Watford/Getty X09241 | also X05299 from February 1972 | X05301 colour photograph 1972 | X05313)
Here is a shot of the wall from (later?) 1972. The words “Free Derry” are now in white, on black squares, presumably in response to some damage or graffiti.
(1972 M00075 X09181 | Stones Speak 1m14s, 1m20s | Holger Rüdel has six images dated 1973 with this inverted lettering X05335 | in this condition in 1973-08)
A Derry Journal article from 1976 reports a petition of 154 signatures claiming that the wall is unsafe.
There are two photographs showing the wall being repainted with this lettering – 1977 Peter Denton (X09183) and (after the fence was removed?) 1979 Peter Marlow (X05275).
An image from 1978 with the wall surrounded by fencing.
(1978 M00076) (see also Victor Patterson fenced-in wall from 1978. | Stones Speak 0m43s | Homer Sykes (Alamy 2A5X1DD, 2A5X1DG, and 2A5X1DW) shows this wall paint-bombed in 1979)
John Hume at the repainted FDC, with improvements to the ground around it.
Woods (Seeing Is Believing? p. 14) writes that “A member of the British army drove an armoured personnel carrier into the wall in 1982 taking off one side of it.”
(The first painting of the other side of the wall was in 1983. There is a separate Visual History page for the rear of FDC.)
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.
Caker Casey in front of the sans-serif version of the slogan.
(Unattributed X11000 | Woods p. 15 | Stones Speak 9m42s)
(M01098 Sinn Féin collection | Stones Speak 10m07s)
(Stones Speak 2m52s)
1997-01: 14 small flagpole holders were added to the rear for a black-flag commemoration of Bloody Sunday.
The new lettering still has serifs but is thicker than previously (1998)
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 name (“Free Derry Corner”), the slogan (“You are now entering free Derry”), and the shape and colour-scheme of the wall have been imitated in various parts of the world.
The closest (geographically) might be “Freedom Corner” – the series of UDA murals in east Belfast. Freedom Corner comprises four (one-storey) gables and seven side-walls along the Newtownards Road; it went by “Freedom Corner” by 1994 (at the latest). It is not a corner (though the houses were originally built without the side walls) and so the “corner” in its name might have been inspired by Free Derry Corner.
“You are now entering loyalist Kilcooley” greets people at the upper entrance to the estate (X11142).
The fame of FDC has spread beyond Northern Ireland, as the following images and links attest:
Free Baiona, Galicia (Spain) (2016)
(Catherine Sanz X09246)
Later History: “Normal appearance” lettering
200x “Iraq – troops out. Vote McCann” graffiti (NWPressPics date given is 2000-03 but the lettering is normal appearance)
2006 “Wear A Black Shamrock” stencil on buttress
2007 normal appearance (T00412)
2007-08 with black ribbon
2007-12 with Christmas hat (pinterest)
2009-02 “You are now entering free Gaza” – remnants of previous (geograph)
2009-10 Derry To Gaza – blockade trip (indymedia)
2010-04 Set The Truth Free (Barnes)
2010-05 “One World 28 – 30 May” blue, pink, green, red hands (Flickr)
2011-08-17 normal appearance (with Mickey Devine 30th poster)
(M07444. M07441 shows Nebula being painted out)
(M07988)2012-03 “International Women’s Day – interned and isolated” – Marian Price posters
2012-04-03 Stan Petrov graffiti (Derry Journal)
(M09211 | McLaughlin)
2013-04 Ding dong, the witch is dead (Thatcher) + “Two snakes too many – end internment” (Whorriskey)
(M09430 M09431 M09432)
2013-06 flying a green, white and black flag
(M10075 M10076 M10077)
(M10154. M10245 shows faint “culture theft” stencil at bottom)
2013-08 pink background
2014-04 the plaster on the wall is replaced (Whorriskey)
2014-05 JFTC2 + RIP Oscar Knox (Whorriskey)
2014-06 “Gerry Conlon 1954-2014 fighting injustice until the end” (Checchi)
At first without names
(M11297 M11298 M11299 M11300) then (2014-08) with names (M11319 M11320)
2014-09 Free Scotland (broadsheet.ie)
(M11699 M11700 M11701 M11702; Miossec)
(M12594 M12595 M12596 M12597)
2015-?? three posters Maghaberry – brutality – isolation
2015-08-28 “Queer Icons – Foyle Gay Pride” – flying rainbow flag
(M12820 M12821 | Derry Journal)
(M12831 M12832. M12833 Aylan)
2015-12 “Don’t Mourn – Organise” Joe Hill
(faded M12898 M12899 | see tripadvisor)
2016-03 flyers for March 28th Easter commemoration
2016-05 “JFT96” (Hillsborough) (Cottrell-Boyce)
2016-05 and 06 James Connolly centenary quote
(M13947 | Derry Journal)
2016-11 flying Cuban flag (An Phoblacht)
(M014744)2017-04 éistígí sticker
(M15943 | Irish Times)
(M16081 M016080 M016082 | BBC-NI | Derry Journal)
2018-09 Derry Girls Against Borders
2018-10 Derry Girls Against Borders + Civil Rights For All
(Unattributed X09190)2019-03 “Fairtrade Derry” (Telegraph)
2019-06 Heroes Of Stonewall (tw)
(X07043 Used by permission of Eclipso Pictures)
2020 As 2020-04 above with yellow background
(X07485 Used by permission of Eclipso Pictures)2020-08 The 2020 Hunger Strikers (John Hume now on side)
(X07618 Used by permission of Eclipso Pictures)
(X08275 Used by permission of Eclipso Pictures)
(Derry Now | Derry Journal – the latter includes an image of the launch of the bench and boxes X09252)
(X08960 X08961 Initially without the URL – see X08801)