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Scarva to host 100,000 as the gloves come off for annual Sham Fight

By Allan Preston

Published 13/07/2016

A right royal clash in Co Down today is expected to draw crowds of 100,000 people to the annual Sham Fight in Scarva.

While many individual Twelfth parades attracted more than 10,000 people yesterday, the famous Sham Fight is Northern Ireland's biggest one-day event at a single location.

The day of traditional pageantry features actors dressed in period costume as the Protestant King William of Orange and Catholic King James to play out their 1690 showdown once again for cheering spectators.

Organisers plan to put more emphasis on explaining the background to the battle this year at the event, which also features a parade of 4,000 members of the Royal Black Institution and 90 bands through the village.

Part of the financial backing for the Sham Fight has been provided by Tourism Ireland and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council.

The day is a year in the making, with Scarva's RBP (Royal Black Preceptory) 1,000 leading the meticulous preparations.

Sandy Heak, their Worshipful Master, said: "We start work on the Sham Fight the week after the previous one has taken place. It is an incredible team effort and many long hours and nights are put into sorting out everything that happens. I suppose you could say that it takes over your life.

"Our aim is simple. We want to give the 100,000 people who come to see it a memorable day out for all the family.

"There is pageantry, history, music and, of course, a strong Christian ethos which is at the heart of the Royal Black Institution."

A landmark of a different type will also be celebrated today - John Adair, who portrays King William, will be celebrating 25 years in his leading role.

"It has been a great honour to play King William all those years," he said. "There is a terrific response from the public when we arrive at the battlefield on horseback. This year we will have new uniforms so that will be something extra on the day.

"We wanted to improve on our uniforms and did quite a bit of research to ensure the new ones were as close as possible to what the soldiers of the day would have worn."

He added: "Every year I go to a laundry and ask them to spruce up my uniform. That always gets a few interesting looks from the staff and anyone in the premises at the time. I suppose they don't get many uniforms for a king, but they always do a good job."

Looking forward to the celebrations today is Sovereign Grand Master of the Institution, Millar Farr, who described the Sham fight as "magical".

"Our biggest problem is the sheer number of people who come along, but that is a problem worth having nowadays and thanks to the planning of RBP 1,000 we can deal with the crowds so that everyone can enjoy themselves."

The procession of 90 preceptories, and a similar number of bands, begins at Banbridge Road in Scarva at 11.15am and proceeds to the Demesne where the Sham Fight takes place at around 1pm, followed by platform proceedings at 2.15pm.

The chairman on the platform will be Imperial Grand Treasurer David Livingstone.

The worship will be led by Rev John Batchelor, Imperial Deputy Grand Chaplain, and the preacher will be Stephen Kennedy of Newry District. The religious service will be accompanied by Hamiltonsbawn Silver Band.

The resolutions will be read by Robin Diffin, Armagh, and include tributes to the Queen on her 90th birthday year. For the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the Royal Black Institution will also remember past members who died in the World War One conflict.

Elsewhere today, Lurgan District No. 2 will hold its annual parade in Bangor.

The procession through the town centre will include 15 preceptories and eight bands and will start at Castle Park Avenue at 11.30am.

Belfast Telegraph

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