Northern Ireland news

Death of man who first painted 'You Are Now Entering Free Derry' on Bogside gable wall

'Free Derry Wall' was first painted in January 1969
Seamus McKinney

THE man who first painted the words “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” on a gable wall in the city's Bogside has died on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights monument.

Liam Hillen (69) died on Christmas Day, almost half a century to the day after he daubed the iconic slogan.

'Free Derry Corner' has become famous around the world and annually attracts thousands of visitors to the area.

The slogan was thought up by Derry writer, activist and former assembly member Eamon McCann early on the morning of January 5 1969.

Rioting broke out in the city following the arrival of the People's Democracy march which was attacked at Burntollet while police watched on.

As crowds mingled, someone suggested writing a slogan on the gable wall which was already a well-known assembly point.

Mr McCann recalled that a number of suggestions were made before he proposed “You Are Now Entering Free Derry”, copying a slogan in the US “You Are Now Entering Free Berkeley”.

It was then that a young Mr Hillen arrived with a paint brush and pot of paint.

After asking Mr McCann if there were one or two “rs” in entering, the Derry man wrote the famous words on the wall for the first time.

It was later re-painted in the now familiar block letters by another Bogside native, John ‘Caker’ Casey.

Mr McCann yesterday paid tribute to Mr Hillen, saying he made a major contribution to the way in which the civil rights movement was remembered.

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