Loyal orders bid to sell Sham Fight as major tourist draw
Loyal order leaders have met tourism chiefs in a bid to promote the annual Sham Fight at Scarva as a key visitor attraction.
Officials from the Republic have also met Grand Orange Lodge officers and attended a number of parades to see how the traditional and hugely popular re-enactment could be marketed to a wider audience.
And the Royal Black Perceptory, which organises the July 13 Scarva gathering, has recently held discussions with the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster.
The DUP minister, whose portfolio includes tourism, said discussions on how the Sham Fight event and others can be developed were under way.
"The aim is to encourage the organisers of the demonstrations to think beyond their own traditional support and broaden the appeal of the event to a tourism audience," she said.
The annual event guarantees that William of Orange is able to claim victory over the 'rebel' King James in the re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Up to 20 actors and four horses take part in the display, which is watched by tens of thousands in the Co Down village every year.
A report commissioned by the Grand Orange Lodge two years ago said accurate estimates of tourist numbers and their resultant spending power did not exist.
But it concluded: "The tourism spend figure will, however, be significant."
It recommended "systems should be put in place to record visitor numbers and spend, especially at the larger parades".
In a written Assembly answer, Mrs Foster said: "Both Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland have worked closely in recent years with the Orange Order. Tourism NI has met with the Orange Order on a number of occasions.
"Tourism Ireland has also met with Grand Orange Lodge officials in recent years, including attendance at loyal order parades and at an event in London hosted by the Ambassador of Ireland, Daniel Mulhall."
Mrs Foster said she met the Royal Black Perceptory in the last few months to discuss the Sham Fight. "Tourism NI officials have also previously met with the event organisers, the Royal Black Preceptory to advise how they could develop the event," she said.
Once a year the tiny village of Scarva comes alive for the annual Sham Fight. King William of Orange camped in the village with an army of 30,000 on the way to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Every year, two actors take on the roles of King William and King James and battle it out in a spectacle that attracts tens of thousands of visitors.