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'You Are Now Entering Free Derry' wall painter Liam Hillen dies aged 69

The slogan gained iconic status for how it captured the civil rights struggle in the city.

An updated version of the
An updated version of the "You are now entering free Derry" slogan on the wall of a house in Derry
Image: DPA/PA Images

LIAM HILLEN, THE first person to paint the words “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” on the wall of a house in the city has died.

The Derry Journal reports that he passed away at the age of 69 on Christmas Day.

The slogan was first painted on the gable end of a house on Lecky Road in the city’s Bogside area in the early hours of 5 January 1969.

It followed the securing of the Bogside and Creggan neighbourhoods by local activists after an incursion into the Bogside by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. 

Residents subsequently built barricades and carried arms to prevent the RUC from entering again, and ‘Free Derry’ became an autonomous nationalist zone until 1972.

In an interview last year, activist Eamonn McCann – who claimed to have devised the slogan – said it “reflected something new that was busy being born around the world” at the time.

Speaking to The Derry Journal, McCann also paid tribute to Hillen’s “significant contribution” to the way the Northern Ireland civil rights period is remembered.

“Free Derry Wall has assumed iconic status in the meantime, reproduced on hundreds of artefacts and souvenir items, from dish-cloths to designer garments to pieces of art and political banners,” he said.

“It’s right that Liam’s role should be acknowledged.”

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