Chapter Chat: Return of Sham Fight to Scarva could draw record attendance

The Scarva Sham Fight is back – and promises to attract a record attendance to witness the colour and pageantry of one of the major cultural events in Northern Ireland’s calendar.

Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson stands between the rivals – James, played by Colin Cairns, and William (John Adair)
Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson stands between the rivals – James, played by Colin Cairns, and William (John Adair)

The Royal Black Institution expects the traditional July 13 celebrations – a casualty of the pandemic for the past two years – to attract around 100,000 visitors, even more if the weather plays its part.

Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson said: “We are anticipating a fantastic turnout. The procession and Sham Fight at Scarva hold a special place in the parading calendar, and I believe people will want to mark this year as a time to enjoy the freedom from restrictions. 

“July 13 provides a great opportunity for families and friends to come together, to renew acquaintances, and to experience the pageantry of the procession and spectacle of the Sham Fight.”

Rev Anderson points out that, as a Christian-based organisation, “the religious service is extremely important to our members”.

He commended the organising committee – from the Sir Knight Alfred Buller Memorial RBP 1000 in Scarva – “for their dedication, commitment and professionalism in maintaining the only re-enactment of its kind on these islands”.

Sandy Heak, chairman of the Sham Fight Committee, said the group had been laying the groundwork for the event for many months but did not mind putting in the hours: “Our aim is to plan an amazing event, one that will be really memorable, and this is something that is unique to Scarva.

“Everything points to a great day out: the thrilling spectacle of the Sham Fight, the wonderful procession and the incredible number of bands accompanying the preceptories.”

The John Hanna Memorial Cup, which has been donated by the Buller family, will be presented to the musical outfit judged to be the best band on the day.

Many of those who descend on Scarva will be there to see the dramatic re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne, in the grounds of Scarvagh Demesne.

King William, played by John Adair, and King James, played by Colin Cairns, will lead the combat, assisted by their respective commanders, the Duke of Schomberg (Mervyn Adair) and Patrick Sarsfield (Brian Johnston).

John Adair laughs when asked if he’s apprehensive the two-year absence will affect the outcome of the battle.

“I may be a bit rusty, but I don’t think this July 13 will see any change in fortune when the battle ends,” he said.

“We look forward to getting the usual terrific response from the crowd, and we will do our utmost to deliver an exciting event that can be enjoyed by all the family.”  

Entering the demesne on horseback, the rival monarchs will be dressed in the traditional costumes of the late 17th century – uniforms just acquired before their last clash in 2019.

The Jacobite group dress in white and green, theWilliamites in red and white; and the demesne will comealive to the sight of the colourfully dressed performers,the sound of blank shots from musket fire and the clashof swords. 

The Sham Fight will be preceded by a parade of 4,000 members of the Royal Black Institution, accompanied by flute, pipe, accordion and brass bands – some bands from Scotland – which will proceed through the picturesque village, starting at 11.15am. 

The RBP banners portray many Old Testament scenes, such as David at the Brook, the Burning Bush, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

They will be carried aloft as the dignified procession makes its way past the crowds of spectators lining the route along Scarva’s streets.

The institution traditionally holds a religious service (at 2pm) after the Sham Fight (at 1.30pm) with resolutions reaffirming loyalty to the British throne, upholding the reformed principles and the maintenance of the United Kingdom.

A big turnout of spectators is also expected in Bangor when Lurgan District No 2 travels to the newly titled city for their annual demonstration on July 13. 

Rev Anderson said: “The Bangor parade complements the institution’s celebrations at Scarva. 

“This year, it will certainly be meaningful that it’s the first time the demonstration is being held in Bangor since it was designated a city as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.”