Scarva: Thousands celebrate as ‘way of life’ returns with Royal Black Institution parade and Sham Fight

It doesn’t change much, said an elderly gentleman sitting in a folding chair by the roadside in Scarva in smiling reflection on another Thirteenth in the village.

By Graeme Cousins
Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 5:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 6:08 pm

And that’s precisely why people love it and come here in their tens of thousands.

When you come to Scarva for the Royal Black Preceptory parade and Sham Fight you know exactly what you’re getting.

Many shared the same yearning for routine as that man in the folding chair.

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The Royal Black Institution welcomed tens of thousands to Scarva for its annual parade and Sham Fight. Photo by Graham Baalham-Curry

After completing the march to the demesne, Armagh man Alan McMahon, a member of RBP 1, said it felt like he’d never been away despite the Covid pandemic putting paid to two consecutive years of Scarva celebrations.

He commented: “It’s like being back to square one, I mean that in a good way. It’s very strange that it’s come back exactly as it had been.

“Because of what’s happened with Covid and the two years away you sort of felt it would be different, but everything’s in the same place, the chip vans are here, the funfair, the crowds are just as big. People are sitting in the same place they always sat.”

The member of the Tandragee preceptory said: “It’s come back and it feels like those two years never happened.

The Moore family arrived at 6.30am to get the best position for the The Sham Fight in Scarva. NL28-210.

“I like the routine of the parade, that routine had been broken, now it’s back.”

Another Tandragee preceptory was responsible for giving three Bassett Hounds the VIP treatment as they were taken on the Thirteenth parade around Scarva by car.

The four-legged friends watched the parade from their owner’s boot as Sons of Elijah RBP 314 made their way through the village and down to the demesne.

When spotted, they raised a smile with many of the crowd and one of the dogs even gave a bark of acknowledgement when passing Scarvagh House.

Riding in comfort at Scarva yesterday. NL28-228.

The crowds were out in force with an estimated 80,000 visitors coming to watch 4,000 members of the Royal Black Institution parade along with around 75 bands.

And they had to get there early to get the best seats.

Eleanor Moore, who was there with her three grandchildren, her son and two daughters-in-law, was among the early birds.

She said: “We got here about 6.30am. There were quite a few already here at that time.

Waringsford Pipe Band. NL28-211.

“It’s such a great family occasion. We wouldn’t miss it. It’s great to be back.”

The Thirteenth in Scarva acts the perfect foil for the Twelfth celebrations. The volume is turned down a little, the pace slowed and the result is a family-friendly cross between Balmoral Show and an open-air music festival.

Poyntzpass Silver Band led the religious service at Scarva.

Members Arnold Huddleston and Melanie Geary spoke of their fondness for the music at the Thirteenth celebrations.

Arnold, who is in his 60th year with the band, said: “The music is a lot more melodic than the Twelfth.

“There are more silver bands, accordion bands, pipe bands rather than the Blood and Thunder flute bands of the Twelfth. It’s a bit more toned down.

Neighbours, Lila Whitten and Jim Walker who are from Scarva were able to bag the best seats at the RBP annual 13th July event at Scarvagh House. NL28-209.

“Bands come from all over the Province, and visitors come from all over as well. This is a way of life for many people.”

Melanie said: “There’s a great family atmosphere in Scarva and some excellent bands.”

Asked if the band had suffered due to Covid, Melanie said: “We kept going on Zoom during lockdown, our numbers actually increased, we haven’t lost any.”

Many of those who descended on Scarva were there to see the dramatic re-enactment of scenes from the Battle of the Boyne in the grounds of Scarvagh Demesne.

The joke that it might be King James’ year is still going strong, with one person suggested it might be an idea to ‘bet in play’ so you can cash out before the inevitable happens.

Entering the demesne on horseback, the rival monarchs were dressed in the traditional costumes of the late 17th century – uniforms purchased for 2019 with no idea that they’d be under wraps for the next two years.

The Jacobites in white and green and the Williamites in red and white pursued each other around the demesne as the sound of blank shots from musket fire rang out. They finished with a face off in full view of hundreds of cheering and booing spectators.

While King William played by John Adair and King James played by Colin Cairns went at each other with swords, the rest of the men tried to shoot down their counterpart’s flag.

When the green flag of the Jacobites fell, William pounced and administered the final blow.

The Sham Fight was preceded by a parade of 4,000 members of the Royal Black Institution, accompanied by flute, pipe, accordion and brass bands, with some bands attending from Scotland.

Earlier in the day, members of Scarva RBP had laid a wreath at the village memorial to local members of the security forces who were murdered during the Troubles.

After the Sham Fight platform proceedings were chaired by RBP 1000 Worshipful Master Andrew Boyce.

The Nesbitt Family from Markethill pictured at the annual Sham Fight yesterday. Included are from left, Dad Ivan, Anna, birthday boy Lee who was celebrating his 19th birthday, and Mum, Pamela. NL28-208.