Scarva: NI’s ‘biggest one-day event’ marks Armistice centenary

All kitted out in costume ahead of the Sham Fight
All kitted out in costume ahead of the Sham Fight

An estimated 100,000 people descended on Scarva for the annual 13 July pilgrimage to one of King Billy’s stopping off sites on his way to the Battle of the Boyne.

This year’s event took place in the centenary year of the signing of the Armistice for WWI. To commemorate, the procession was led by soldiers and nurses in period costume. Throughout the day, the soldiers read out extracts from diaries of local servicemen from 100 years ago.

The worshipful master of RBP 592 shares a joke

The worshipful master of RBP 592 shares a joke

The Scarva celebrations, largely unchanged for around 150 years, once again hosted the much loved Sham Fight between King William III and James II, the last such re-enactment in Ireland.

The quaint Co Down village has become renowned for hosting the biggest one-day event, at a single location, anywhere in the Province.

The fight and large-scale procession through Scarva – hosted by Sir Knight Alfred Buller Memorial of RBP 1000 – is now firmly established as a major tourist attraction. The News Letter spoke to one American photographer who was keen to capture the event through her lens.

Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution, Rev William Anderson, enjoyed his first Sham Fight as recently installed leader of the loyal order.

UUP leader Robin Swann MLA (right), with Royal Black Sovereign Grand Master Sir Knight Rev William Anderson (centre), and ex-MLA Danny Kennedy

UUP leader Robin Swann MLA (right), with Royal Black Sovereign Grand Master Sir Knight Rev William Anderson (centre), and ex-MLA Danny Kennedy

“The Sham Fight is rightly regarded as one of the must-see flagship events of the summer and the parading season,” he said. “It is truly a day like no other, and a wonderful occasion packed with music, pageantry, culture and history – a special event for the whole family to enjoy.”

The Imperial Grand Registrar of the Royal Black Institution, Billy Scott, said the day has remained largely unchanged for 150 years. “This is the last surviving sham fight in Ireland,” he said.

“Apparently at one time there were five or six, the last one to survive part from Scarva was in Bandon in west Cork, which disappeared sometime before WWI”.

He added: “As I come here, I can see folk that I recognise sitting in the same seats they have been sitting in for the last 20 years – on the same spot in the grounds.”

Roy Richardson cut a dashing ' and colourful ' figure

Roy Richardson cut a dashing ' and colourful ' figure

Part of the reason the event is so popular, he believes, is that it is in the same place every year, making it a fixture in local people’s calendar.

“Traditionally this was the place William spent one night at on his way from Carrickfergus to the Boyne. And it has become an iconic location for that reason.”

There is a huge tree near the main house in the Scarvagh Demesne which William is traditionally said to have tied his horse to.

“There is no reason to believe he didn’t,” Billy said as he gestured at the tree. “The tradition says that he did. Certainly it is true to say that the Royal party camped in this locality.”

Some of the youngest spectators who watched the festivities

Some of the youngest spectators who watched the festivities

This year, the event featured a performance from English mezzo-soprano singer Emma Brown, and incorporated a cultural field, showcasing musical entertainment, highland dancing and other activities.

For the Sham Fight, King William was played by John Adair and King James by Colin Cairns. The main protagonists were accompanied by soldiers in period costume and a number of horses. The annual finale sees the Williamite troops shoot James’s flag off its mounting, after which William pins James to the ground with his sword.

Some 90 Royal Black preceptories and as many bands paraded through the village and up into Scarvagh Demesne. As many as 4,000 members of ‘the Black’ attended, accompanied by a variety of flute, pipe, accordion and brass bands. Tens of thousands of spectators lined the one-mile route.

Earlier in the day, members of Scarva Royal Black Preceptory laid a wreath at the village memorial to local members of the security forces who were murdered during the Troubles.

Spectators watched the day live on the News Letter Facebook site from as far afield as England, Australia, Canada and the Philippines. The footage can still be viewed on our Facebook site.

The designated charity for the day was Dementia NI.