Here I am in the exquisite sunken ballroom of the Titanic, dancing the night away with one of Virtual Belfast’s rather large robot population. The Belfast builds are utterly fascinating in so many respects- it was difficult to decide how to even start this post; as usual, my friend Hylee picks an extremely sophisticated, complex, and unique winner! Just give me another minute to find out if my partners design parameters includes a wallet, and we’ll get out of here!
Hello my dearest dears! How marvelous; here we all are again, ready for another exciting adventure on OpenSim, the software platform that hosts simply hundreds of independent worlds, many of which are connected by an amped up teleportation system called the hypergrid, which enables you to endlessly explore this exciting virtual frontier, meeting people from all over the world, making friends, having adventures and snagging so many freebies you actually begin to have these really vivid dreams that your computer bursts into a…or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, if you do not know how to get on OpenSim( and you are not alone, believe me) please read my “How to get on OpenSim in Six easy Steps” page at the top of this blog, and don´t forget my Newbie Glossary, also at the top! Come on; spread your wings in the free metaverse!
Today’s adventure takes us to a city that is completely off the standard tourist track. Rome, Madrid, Vienna, Amsterdam – some European capitals are in every travel book section and travel agency. A great many of my western readers don’t really know where Belfast is, and if you do, it only conjures of images of car bombs and brutal religious intolerance. A great many of my non western readers don’t really know what Ireland is, or the differences between European Christians ! If you DO know all this stuff, you can just skip down to the virtual Belfast tour . If not, this is what I think are the broad strokes.
RELIGION: CATHOLICS AND PROTESTANTS
Okay, for readers who are a loooong way from Europe, you can break down western European Christians into two big honkin’ groups . Catholicism came on the scene first, and the Roman Catholic Church , which is still the largest Christian church in the world, was the main religious and political body in Western Europe for hundreds of years. Sure, there were kings and queens all over the place, but their powers were limited. A lot of Europe’s endless wars were caused by her rulers trying to shake off Rome . They began succeeding with the help of a rising, literate middle class in 1500′s with The Protestant Reformation; taken from the word “Protest” and” Reform” some of these new theologies became the new state religions. This was obviously not a bloodless process. There were also growing divisions within the new Protestantism, developing largely across class lines. The upper, ruling classes leaned toward ideologies which allowed them to enjoy their position and wealth. The hard working middle and lower class Protestants were more austere; these Reform Protestants favored a more down to earth and democratic approach to church structure, personal life, and society. Protestants persecuted each other as fervently as they went after Catholics, who, in turn went after… you get the idea.
Ireland is Catholic. And even when England was still Catholic, and had conquered Wales on her western border, and kinda Scotland on her northern border, Ireland, separated from the English by a rough little sea, and blessed by an annual rainfall that rusted whole armies then sank them in the mud, remained unconquered until the Reformation. Troublesome Scottish reform Protestants, displaced by the English in their own country, were used to colonize Ireland. The largest, and most successful of these colonies is known as The Plantation of Ulster . The nine counties of Ulster comprise modern Northern Ireland, of which Belfast is the capital. The Irish tribes of this region had given England more problems than the rest of the country combined. The ensuing bloodshed, galvanized radical reform English ruler ( he’d executed the king) Oliver Cromwell solve the” Irish problem” once and for all. This solution involved shock and awe military tactics, a scorched earth policy, legislating Irish Catholic culture and civil rights into virtual non exsistence, and the deportation to the colonies of about 50,000 “prisoners of war” which included my sixteenth great grandfather, who was an eight year old orphan at the time.
Ireland remained a colony until 1922. It was a less than dazzling experience. When it finally came, Irish independence did not include the wealthy, industrialized nine northern counties. The reasons are a subject of debate even today. Some say the new, virulently Catholic Irish government did not want a large population of voting, virulently anti Catholic Protestants; some say the British would never have surrendered the mighty Belfast docks and shipyards. For whatever reason, in 1922 the Republic of Ireland, an autonomous state, and Northern Ireland , which remained a part of the United Kingdom , came into being.
Things were always uneasy in the new Northern Ireland . Protestants may have been the wealthier majority, but sharing a border with the new Catholic Republic made them nervous; they continued with colonial style anti Catholic legislation, openly discriminated in employment and housing, and overtly interfered in elections. In spite of all this, things were relativly peaceful until the Catholic civil rights demonstrations of the 1960′s, which were countered by Protestant organizations, such as the Orange Order , marching directly through less affluent Catholic areas. The Protestant marchers parodied Catholic religious rites and threw pennies at the Catholics. The Catholics threw stones and things escalated. Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups formed. The rioting and fighting became so bad the British army was called in to restore order. It was 1969. A period known as The Troubles began. It would last for over 20 years. Whole districts would become war zones, where families would learn to live amidst tanks and armed soldiers. After dark concrete barricaded city centers became no man’s lands. People were held without charges for years. Sometimes they simply disappeared. 3,000 people, half of them civilians, would lose their lives.
Well, my dears, now that we know where we are going, and some of the reasons folks there did what they did, the tour can commence!!!
You can get to Virtual Belfast from any upper OSGrid address. Run a world map search on the word Belfast, and you will get the results you see above. I am running this search from the OS Grids wonderful freebie mall and social hub,Wright Plaza. You can get there from the Sanctuary Eld, Hyperica, and my beloved home grid Craft’s Hydra Station.
We will start our tour in the first region on the list, Belfast Ireland. It means we will have to backtrack later, but teleporting via one of the other regions will drop you under or between something. On the left you can see Belfast Harbor, which we will save for last, to the right a dockland warehouse.
You land here, facing these two half finished builds. On the left is region Derry, the Catholic name for the Northern Ireland county and city of Londonderry. The big yellow pile of stones is probably one of these Irish Megalithic Tombs. On the right is region GiantsCausewayIreland .The bridge, which is all that is finished, is the Carrik- a-Rede rope bridge, the last stretch of the path that leads to Northern Ireland’s UNESCO World Heritage site, The Giants Causeway, an area of about 40,000 naturally occurring hexagonal interlocking basalt columns. Why would I make that up? Anyway to begin the tour, lets head back, to the south, and the square with the clock tower.
Welcome to Central Belfast, in region BelfastIreland 2! This is Custom House Square, proud Victorian symbol of a time when only London and Liverpool collected more duty from their ports. The steps of the Customs House became something called a speakers corner where, traditionally, one is free to publicly speak one’s mind without fear of arrest. Here in Belfast, the steps most famous speaker was labor organizer, Big Jim Larkin , one of my favorite historical figures. Hundreds of dock workers came to this square to hear him speak, and this working class Catholic man with little formal education did the unimaginable- he united Protestant and Catholic unskilled labor into one union. The Belfast Dock strike of 1907 was one of the few times Ulster Protestants and Catholics fought and marched together.(he also got the police to briefly strike!) In RL Belfast, his statue stands on the Custom House steps; in Dublin, the capital of the Irish Republic( where he, among other things, co founded the Irish Labor Party), it stands along side other giants of Irish history on the main thoroughfare O’Connell Street, arms outstretched, still telling the world,”The great appear great, because you are on your knees. ARISE!”
Now, in a complete change of subject, here’s a quirky little fact; you see the clock tower behind me? The locals call it “Belfasts leaning Tower of Pisa” Yes it`s tilted. And when the city council tried to “fix” it a few years back, there was such an public uproar, they had to strengthen the base, but keep the angle. That tidbit’s not in Wikipedia, so how do I know it?
Virtual Belfast creator Stiofain MacTomais( don’t panic, he answers to Stio) is how! I was lucky enough spend a couple of evenings with this extremely dedicated builder, history buff, music fanatic, and of course, Belfast native! Here we are standing in front of the Harp Bar,( Cross the street, walk past the subway, and look left) the Belfast punk club, and the ONLY club of any kind that was open after dark in barricaded central Belfast during the 70′s. Note the cage and barbed wire. Let’s walk back to the subway.
Go downstairs and take a look. This was a punk hangout. You will be asked to allow a media strem. You should always say yes to streams in Virtual Belfast; here for example,in this build, you will hear a really neat interview with the Godfather of Belfast punk Terri Hooley.
The media streaming system is a bit buggy, and you will often be offered something that starts out with people chanting “Rory! Rory!” Just turn it off until I give the signal.
Virtual Belfast is crammed with interesting historical stuff. If you decide to wander around, remember, you can google pretty much any building name, any name on a poster, there will be a reasonable to freaking massive amounts of information on it.
We are going to tag along after Stio for a bit now.Go back up the stairs, and walk south toward the big screen with the red curtains. Hang a right, and walk west down the main street, past the Harp, to the first intersection. Turn right.
The North Street Arcade was considered the finest example of the art deco style in Ireland. Miraculously unscathed by the bomb campaigns of the Troubles, in the 90′s the Arcade was home to several art groups, an alternative music venue, several small businesses including Good Vibrations, a record shop belonging Terri Hooley. During the peacetime boom of the late 90′s central Belfast properties were suddenly prime real estate, and ownership of the Arcade was hotly disputed. In 2004 a paramilitary type incendiary device gutted the building, nearly killing several people. Today it is boarded up and covered with angry graffiti alleging real estate barons were responsible for the arson attack. Across the street….
The John Hewitt is, according to Stio, the city’s current premier music venue, and an award winning restaurant. It is also a co-op, run by the Belfast Unemployment Resource Center, and staffed by program trainees. If any of them are reading this…
Delany’s is a 100 year old cafe, originally owned by a big game hunter who hung his trophies all over the damn place. More prime real estate in the peacetime Belfast, another landmark that is due to be torn down. Across the street…
The Red Barn Gallery has a massive archive of Belfast photos, many of which were taken by Stios childhood friend, the famous Belfast photographer…
Frankie Quinn. The gallery is scheduled to close later in the year. Down at the end of the street is my second favorite thing in Virtual Belfast
Rab Maguires Barber Shop was a part of Belfast for 60 years; he was a barber for the American troops in WWII, and was the first in the city to have proper barbers chairs. His assistant was a little person, who had barbers tools specially made for his hand size. He also took the customers bets. Stio has customers in the mirror, and old boxing posters on the wall, but he is always on the prowl for better chairs! At the barber shop, turn left, and walk to this building!
The Crown Bar is the only bar in the UK to be owned by the National Trust ,which makes it very unlikely to be torn or burned down. Stio says it is a work of art, built by the same Italian craftsmen who worked on the Titanic. Now walk next door to the big yellow building…
The Ulster Hall was built in 1879 as a multi purpose public venue. Everyone from Charles Dickens to the Dali Llama have spoken here, and in the turbulent 70′s it was the only place that had big live concerts. Led Zepplin first played Stairway to Heaven here, seminal Irish rockers Rory Gallager,Horslips,… forget it-I am too damn tired to link to them all; here, sort through the BBC Ulster Hall Memories yourselves! Now let’s meander inside…
Now, when you come in this room there are only the boxes and weird shells on the floor! I’m sure you recognize Stio and I in the front.See the plywood box in the center of the room, between us. Put on the “Rory! Rory” stream and walk through the box(you may have to get Stio to turn it on for you, it wasn’t on the last time I was there). Anyway, a really amazing amount of robots start to appear…
Soon the lights come on and every shell has a bot- THEN THEY START TO DANCE!!! It was wonderful!!! You can also click the tall plywood box on the right to add copies of your avatar to the throng. Stio says his ultimate plan is to have robotic bands and dancers of every period in all the different venues, so Virtual Belfast will ultimately become like a big historical jukebox!!!!!!! What a fantastic vision!!!!!!
When you have finished messing with the robots and whining for a robotic labor rally in Custom House Square or maybe just Big Jim striding around the docks in his long black coat HINT HINT, go back out the front door. To the left, you will see rows of houses with murals on the side. DO NOT GO IN THAT DIRECTION!!! There is a 3 region intersection there that crashed me every time! Instead, we will go back to the crossroads before the big movie screen with the red curtains!
Walk up past the big round metal structure (it`s the Belfast Gasworks )…
This is region BelfastIreland 3.We are on the Ormeau Bridge, which seperates southern Befast’s famous Ormeau Road; the lower Ormeau, where the gasworks are, is Irish Catholic Republican, the middle and affluent upper Omagh are Protestant. Not surprisingly,the bridge was the scene of tension and violence during the troubles. If you look toward my right, you can see the rows of houses with the murals. Let’t walk over!
The murals of the” new Belfast” have been painted over; with some of them I don’t really see why. Especially as the Catholic Falls Road murals were 60 per cent about Ireland and justice and martyrs….
Now, the Protestant Shankhill Road murals were 99% belligerent twaddle.
But not always. Native son George Best , one of the top ten footballers of all time, is so revered in Belfast, that on what would have been his 60th birthday, Belfast Airport was renamed George Best Belfast City Airport as a “fitting and permanent tribute to his footballing brilliance.”
Now, you see those big grey walls with the pictures on them? Let’s go take a look, but slowly, it’s a region crossing! Sorry, I don’t have a picture(I could have sworn I did!). The Peace Lines” are walls that were put up by the two communities during the troubles for protection. A “Peace Line” seperates the Falls and Shankhill Roads communities for examples. There are doors in some stretches that are open, and guarded by the police during the day, but locked at night. In the new Belfast, it is debated whether or not to remove them. Stio has very effectivly used the virtual Peace Lines to exhibit the work of his friend Frankie Quin, who documented the Troubles for thirty years. Don’t forget to listen to the audio stream, which is Stio talking about the Peace Lines, and the Troubles! Now let’s head back to Ormeau Bridge!
Relax in Ormeau Park, after you copy pretty much everything there, including the very cool dragonfly emitter!
Stroll up to the end of the road, across the street from the Curzon Cinema.
There is a niche in the building just behind the tree, where you can pick up your Belfast souvenir and Irish rocker t-shirts. Now go downstairs….
Welcome to the Maritime Club, the birthplace of RL Belfast rhythm and blues( on the website, be sure to check out the unvieling. The tall dude in the bottom picture is Stio!) is also the oldest music venue and longest running live music session in the metaverse! Now it gets freaky. In 2006, Stio was involved a campaign to save a historical building(what a surprise) that was also an important Belfast music venue( Gasp! Stio, how the years have changed you!) called The Rotterdamm. He and the others were wanted to do a media blitz, TV, radio newspapers, and the internet. They heard about this thing called Second Life, where you could reach a world audience, built the Maritime, and held live online fundraisers. The media campaign was extremely effective,saving the Rotterdamm within a few months. Stio, however, had become the tiniest bit hooked. So, in a campaign to save a historic music venue, he created one in every sense of the word. You can join the gang at the Maritime every Sunday night, 10pm GMT. Admission is free!
Now let’s head back to where we started; walk past the Custom House Square and hang a right
This is the virtual Rotterdamm! What a beautiful mural! Do you recognize some of the landmarks now? Don’t foget to go inside! The jukebox is free to copy, and plays recordings of the live fundraisers! There are really good Belfast musicians you won’t want to miss! Let`s continue walking.
In their heyday, the Belfast Shipyards were the world’s leading builders of opulent ocean liners, one of the best known being the doomed Titanic. The H and W on the yellow bar above the wall stands for Harland and Wolff, the company that built the giant yellow shipbuilding cranes Samson and Goliath in 1969, that have become Belfast landmarks. On the other side of the wall
… is the spectacular harbor area.
The docks are my favorite thing in Virtual Belfast. I tried for a long time, but I just couldn’t get a picture good enough to capture their charm. Sometimes you have to be there!
This sign will lead you to the Titanic teleport. You should also get a notecard that you need to read- it is important to adjust your graphic settings so you can see underwater! I think you set your water to pond, then went into preferences >graphics and turned off shine and bump. Sorry, didn`t copy the notecard! The Titanic is in the water off the harbor, so you can also just dive in…..
The scale is incredible. Can you see the fish? The main deck is over my left shoulder, where the woodwork sweeps down.
Isn’t she cute? You can copy her! The boxes behind me are teleports all around the ship, and can you make out the little object across from them? It’s a bucket! Well smarty pants, it may not be exciting now, but you just wait!
Click start scene and turn around.Give it a minute.
Hehe… told you so. Eventually ghost bot starts to mop the deck. Now you can start teleporting around, although I had a blast exploring on foot…
If you are walking around with Stio, he will spend a lot of time half apologizing, telling you this isn’t finished….
…that needs work…..
Eejit! Virtual Belfast is one of the great builds of the free metaverse. This is the Grand Ballroom.
No, she didn’t have a wallet either. It is hard to get Stio to blow his own horn, but I`m not virtualchristine for nothing, and eventually he told me that the group he works with at 3dcolab actually pioneered interactive robotics in SL! They also have a virtual Detroit on a Kitely sim,where they stage all kinds of interesting projects, which will probably, finally get me on Kitely one of these days!!
And that my dearest dears, concludes another absolutely massive Hylee Bekker post. Sorry there wasn`t a map, but I barely had time this week to write, much less go sumo on my paint program!Thank you once again Hylee, for having impeccable taste. Thank you to Stio for showing me around, explaining so much, laughing at my jokes, and just being generally cool. And thanks to Paul from 3dcolab for liking my Facebook page, HINT HINT. And thank you all for joining me in my small adventures! Your company means the world to me! The sweetest of dreams and the brightest of days to you all! Until next time, Adieu!