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This once was an ominous sign that reflected the horror of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and Derry in particular, but is now more of a tourist landmark thanks to the peace agreement. Free Derry Corner was the entrance to a self-declared autonomous nationalist area of Derry City between 1969 and 1972. Its name was taken from a sign painted on a gable wall in the Bogside in January 1969 which read, You are now entering Free Derry”.
The area, which included the Bogside and Creggan neighbourhoods, was secured by community activists for the first time on 5th January 1969 following an incursion into the Bogside by members of the police force, the RUC. Residents built barricades and carried clubs and similar arms to prevent the RUC from entering. After six days the residents took down the barricades and police patrols resumed, but tensions remained high over the following months.
Violence reached a peak on 12 August 1969, culminating in the Battle of the Bogside a three day pitched battle between residents and police. On 14 August units of the British Army were deployed at the edge of the Bogside and the police were withdrawn. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) began to re-arm and recruit after August 1969. In July 1971 there was a surge of recruitment into the IRA after two young men were shot and killed by British troops. The government introduced internment on the 9th August 1971, and in response, barricades went up once more in the Bogside and Creggan. This time, Free Derry was a no-go-area, defended by armed members of both the Official and Provisional IRA. From within the area they mounted gun attacks on the army, and the Provisionals began a bombing campaign in the city centre. As before, unarmed ‘auxiliaries’ manned the barricades and crime was dealt with by a voluntary body known as the Free Derry Police.
Support for the IRA increased further after Bloody Sunday in January 1972, when fourteen people were shot dead by British troops at a march in the Bogside. The support began to wane after the killing by the Official IRA of a local youth who was home on leave from the British Army. After a Provisional IRA ceasefire, during which it entered talks with the British Government, broke down, the British took the decision to move against the “no-go” areas. Free Derry came to an end on 31 July 1972, when thousands of troops moved in with armoured cars and bulldozers to occupy the area.
It may now be a tourist sight for the thousands of visitors that come to Derry every year, but for the people of the area who lost loved ones, the horror of the Troubles will live on and taint their memories for the rest of their lives.