Belfast Telegraph

Sham Fight attracts tens of thousands to Scarva to enjoy feast of pageantry

By Jenna Gardiner

The result is never in doubt but tens of thousands of people descended on Scarva yesterday to confirm the growing appeal of the annual Sham Fight.

Organisers claimed up to 100,000 crammed into the quaint Co Down village for the annual re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne - and the carnival atmosphere could not be ignored.

King William and King James met at the top of the cultural field to act out the victory of 1690 - the only display of its kind in the province.

The main protagonists were accompanied by horses and soldiers dressed in period costume, adding to the grandeur of the occasion.

William's victory in the battle may be a foregone conclusion, but onlookers cheered and waved their Union flags nonetheless.

"I can't wait to see King Billy win," said young Ellie McClure from Portadown as she waited for history to come alive, while her friend Lydia-Rose Black said her favourite part is watching the bands.

Around 4,000 members of the Royal Black Institution stepped out, accompanied by a mix of flute, accordion and pipe bands.

Linda Neely travelled to the Sham Fight with her mum Rosemary, from Coleraine, for the third year in a row, "to see the pageantry and crowds, but especially the brass brands". Rosemary said: "We love the atmosphere of it all, but the parade is what we're here for the most."

The Sham Fight is a long-standing day out, with many returning each year to see King Billy take the victory.

Helen Upritchard and Marie Hamilton have been attending Scarva since 1970.

They live nearby but come each year for the fun family day out and they have developed friendships with other people they have met there.

Also enjoying the festivities was Michael Potter, who described himself as "the eccentric Catholic from Limerick that loves the Orange".

He travelled to Scarva to experience the pageantry of the day and believes it's "all about friends and fun".

"King Billy might reign victorious, but we're all friends here," he added.

After James had been vanquished, John Adair, who has played King William for 27 years, explained the serious point behind the festivities.

He said the annual fight was "a way of keeping our culture alive and our institution meaningful".

John takes pride in the fact that Scarva is believed to be the only remaining event of its type in Ireland and he is delighted at the huge increase in the number of people who attend it each year.

Despite another defeat, King James, who is better-known as Colin Cairns, said the scale of the event is "unbelievable".

This year's Sham Fight took on a new element, partnering with Dementia NI to raise funds and awareness of the illness.

Volunteers were dotted around the cultural field, collecting money for the charity.

The weather may not be as certain as King Billy's victory each year, but the rain stayed away for the festivities.

Brian Hanna, from Glasker near Rathfriland, has been attending Scarva every year since he was a child and brings his own family now.

Enjoying the occasion with son Ralph, baby Norah and his wife Donna, Brian was looking forward to both watching the bands and the re-enactment.

Addressing the demonstration, the Grand Master of the Royal Black Preceptory, the Rev William Anderson, said: "Let the message go loud and clear from this platform today that we stand firmly behind the victories that were won and we will not allow such victories to be overlooked or written into the annals of history.

"Let us all today affirm our Britishness and our citizenship and be resolved to stand firm even in the face of enemies from within and without."

Belfast Telegraph

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