SECRETARY of State Owen Paterson attended his first-ever ‘Scarva Day’ yesterday and was suitably impressed by the experience.
Speaking at Scarvagh House during the march-past of 3,000 members of the Royal Black Institution, Mr Paterson told the News Letter: “I have just walked past about 25,000 people (along the Scarvagh Demesne) and there were four police officers, spending their time chatting to the crowds. There are about 4,000 loyalist parades in Northern Ireland, with trouble at a tiny minority. Most are peaceful and good-natured, and this occasion – with an estimated 100,000 people in the village – is a shining example. I congratulate everyone concerned.”
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster, who accompanied Mr Paterson, commented: “Both the Twelfth and the Thirteenth were celebrated in wonderful weather and we are grateful for that. The atmosphere at Scarva – which attracts the biggest crowd of any event in the Northern Ireland calendar – is fantastic. The villagers are so welcoming and people come year after year to savour this occasion. It’s so friendly and it’s unique.”
Mrs Foster was speaking while King William (alias John Adair) and King James (alias Colin Cairns) and their orange and green bedecked troops were squaring up for the annual Sham Fight in the shadow of Scarvagh House. The ‘field’ was crammed with supporters and children enjoying the funfair facilities. And Sovereign Grand Master of the Black Institution, Millar Farr, was preparing to deliver a hard-hitting speech against gay marriages.
‘Kings’ Adair and Cairns are both members of the Scarva RBP 1000 (Sir Knight Alfred Buller Memorial – whose descendants still inhabit Scarvagh House). They organise the annual extravaganza, and Grand Master Wilson Jordan – part of the march-past group – was delighted that things had gone so well.
“It’s a tough call for the Preceptory,” he said. “The organisation is done over a long period of months, but we love having such an important day in Northern Ireland’s loyalist calendar, and every single one of the 100,000 is extremely welcome to our village.”
He added, as the day began, that King William was expected to be the victor once again, and that’s how it turned out! But typical Ulster humour was flying all day that – with so much talk of “shared space” – James wasn’t giving up!
Meanwhile, from the platform Mr Farr said that any moves towards gay marriage “would do untold damage to civilisation as we know it”, adding that man-woman bonds were sacrosanct and that no church should be compelled by the law to perform such a union.
But the overriding ethos of the day was of a community event, with seven ‘Black’ districts taking part in the various parades and ceremonies. It all began with a wreath-laying by RPB 1000 at the memorial in the centre of Scarva to commemorate four RUC men murdered in the troubles – James Hunter (May 1976), Richard Allen Baird (April 1979), Frederick Morton (March 1983) and Trevor George Elliott (May 1984).
There were officially seven districts on parade – Portadown, Tandragee, Banbridge, Newry, Lower Iveagh, Rathfriland and Markethill. And there were others preceptories on the march as special guests, including City of Londonderry RBP (led by the superb Churchill Band), Elijah’s Chosen Few RBP 208 from Kilkeel – reportedly the biggest Preceptory in the world with 270 members – and King Solomon’s Golden Start RBP 56 from Ballynahinch, celebrating its 150th anniversary.
All 80 preceptories had their own band, including Shields Hill from Falkirk, Scotland, who headed Epworth Temperance RBP 232 from Portadown. And as the Sir Knights and musicians marched the two miles from the village to the demesne, they passed thousands of supporters, stalls selling all sorts of trinkets, assailed by the mouth-watering odour of a plethora of food stalls, doing a roaring trade in the feeding the 100,000.
Mainly, though, this was a day for people from all over Northern Ireland to meet and greet old friends they had forged through the friendliness and uniqueness of Scarva Day. Alan Peters from Comber said: “I’ve been coming for over 20 years and have made so many friends. I keep a photographic record of it all, and come every year. It’s wonderful – all so civilised.”