The annual Sham Fight and loyal order parade in Scarva drew the expected bumper crowds yesterday for one of the largest cultural events in the Province.
More than 100,000 people packed into the picturesque Co Down village and demesne to watch 5,000 members of the Royal Black Institution, representing 95 preceptories, take part in the colourful spectacle.
Numbers this year were swollen by the inclusion of many Royal Black districts and preceptories which traditionally do not attend the Scarva event.
As well as the usual 80 preceptories from Portadown, Tandragee, Newry, Banbridge, Markethill, Mourne, Rathfriland, and Lower Iveagh districts - newcomers to Scarva included preceptories from Belfast, Comber, Enniskillen, Garvagh, Coagh, Sixmilecross, Ballyhalbert, Carrickfergus, Glasgow and Donegal.
The pageantry of the re-enacted battle between King William and King James proved as popular as ever, keeping thousands of spectators in the Scarvagh Demesne demonstration field after the morning parade.
Twenty ‘foot soldiers’ supported the four men on horseback as the Sham Fight progressed to its rousing conclusion.
‘King William’ is otherwise known as John Adair, who has played the victor’s the role for 20 years, while Brian Jamison suffered yet another defeat as ‘King James’. As in previous years, the mock battle takes place in the area of a large chestnut tree reputed to have sheltered the horse of King William as he rested on his way to the Boyne in 1690.
Scarva Royal Black Preceptory’s 50 members work painstakingly to ensure everything goes according to plan year after year.
Senior representatives of the Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland and Methodist Church were the main invited guests at this year’s demonstration - welcomed by the Royal Black Institution’s Sovereign Grand Master Millar Farr.
Platform proceedings in front of Scarvagh House included the passing of resolutions, and a religious service led by Rev John Batchelor.
The Grand Master’s resolutions focused on Christian faith, loyalty to Queen and country, and a pledge to uphold the Union.
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s celebrations, he said: “The Sham Fight is a very special occasion every year, but we think 2014 will break all records.
“We know there are many members of the Royal Black Institution, joining the parade for the very first time. That is bound to swell our numbers.”
Mr Farr added: “It is without doubt the biggest one day event, at a single location, in Northern Ireland.
“It is a truly wonderful family occasion and we are looking forward to another extremely successful day.”
The main charities being supported by the Institution’s 2014 appeal included the Bible Society and Mission Aviation Fellowship - with money raised being used to send bibles to Christians in South Sudan and bring humanitarian aid to remote communities.
In recent years visitors to the Scarva event have included the then Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster and representatives from the NI Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland.
Only during war time have the celebrations come to a temporary standstill - but even then a small number of Royal Black Institution members walked the processional route between 1940 and 1944 to maintain the unbroken tradition.
Shortly before the main parade yesterday, members of Scarva preceptory laid a wreath at the village memorial in honour of local members of the security forces who were murdered during the Troubles.