The Thirteenth: Getting ready for a virtual day out in Scarva

Instead of the usual Thirteenth celebrations in Scarva a video will be broadcast at the time of the paradeInstead of the usual Thirteenth celebrations in Scarva a video will be broadcast at the time of the parade
Instead of the usual Thirteenth celebrations in Scarva a video will be broadcast at the time of the parade
GRAEME COUSINS looks at what will be happening in the village of Scarva tomorrow instead of the usual Thirteenth activities

For the past few years I’ve taken the trip to Scarva in advance of the annual Sham Fight to catch up with the organisers. It’s something I look forward to.

Even though it’s the same people talking about what is essentially the same thing every year, the craic is always great.

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It’s testament to the guys from Sir Knight Alfred Buller Memorial RBP 1000 that repetition hasn’t diluted their passion for one of Ulster’s biggest spectacles.

King William defeated King James at last year's Sham FightKing William defeated King James at last year's Sham Fight
King William defeated King James at last year's Sham Fight

This year, although the event is cancelled, when I chat to John Adair, who has played King William for almost three decades, the humour is still good, but it’s obvious the sight of an empty demesne tomorrow will leave him a little forlorn.

He said: “This will be the first time in 27 years that I haven’t put on the costume. That’s as King William, I was a foot soldier before that.

“The outfit will be hung up in the wardrobe, job furloughed for a while.

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“I believe King James had been putting in a bit of extra training, he’ll be badly disappointed that he’s not getting out to put that training to use.”

Sovereign Grand Master, Rev William Anderson, is recorded for a segment in the Sham Fight videoSovereign Grand Master, Rev William Anderson, is recorded for a segment in the Sham Fight video
Sovereign Grand Master, Rev William Anderson, is recorded for a segment in the Sham Fight video

Instead of this year’s event a video will be broadcast tomorrow including some speeches, historical features on Scarva and the Sham Fight, and highlights of last year’s parade.

John, who is a member of the Sham Fight organising committee, said: “We are where we are and we have to do what we can do.

“What will be happening is we will lay our wreath in the morning at 9.30am and that will be it. Then at 11.15am our video will run for an hour or so on Facebook and YouTube.

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“There will be no Sham Fight this year. We made that decision that we would respectfully remember those that lost their lives and then we would cut it at that. We’re abiding by the legislations for the good of everyone.”

Of his plans for the day John said: “After we disperse from the wreath-laying I will go home and spend the time watching our video and, to be honest, after that I’m not sure.

“You’re at 12 o’clock when the original parade would be going in full flight, and the Sham Fight would have been starting. It’s hard to know what way I’ll be, it’s going to be very strange.”

John said: “I’m now 59, I’ve been in the Orange since I was 17 and the Black from I was 18.

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“This will be the first Scarva Day I’ve missed since I was 18. There will be a lot of our guys in that age bracket, it will be the same for them all, it will be the first year they’ve missed.

“For most of those years I was up at six o’clock and into Scarva and home at probably 6.30pm at night then go out for a meal to relax after it all.

“This is something new this year that hasn’t happened in all those years so it’s hard to say what way I’ll feel.”

John said: “From it was first announced that we’d be cancelling, it has been a big miss. You don’t realise it until you’re sitting in the house all the nights you would have been out of the house planning.

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“When we saw the preview of the video it brought it home that none of this is actually happening this year.

“There’s a big void for us all. We were meeting on Zoom to organise and pull the video together, that should have been nights out at the hall organising all the various things.

“The theme this year we’d intended to be VE Day for our cultural field. We’d a few good ideas for that, but they all were shelved unfortunately.

“We met in person a few nights this week to get the arch up and decorate the village. That’s the only nights we have met in person. It was good to get caught up.

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“Zoom is one thing and to be honest the same banter and craic carried on through the Zoom meetings that we always would have had, but there is something different about that than meeting face to face.

“There’s a lot of people will miss that on the day. We all know it’s a day for meeting old friends, that they haven’t seen from 12 months previous.

“Watching the video, there’s some very poignant footage of an empty demesne with music playing in the background. It’s a very powerful image of an empty place that normally would have 70 or 80,000 people about it. There’s something very striking about that.”

In February Andrew Boyce took over as Worshipful Master of RBP 1000, looking forward to his first Scarva Day in the role.

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A month later and the world was in lockdown due to the spread of Covid-19.

He said: “It’s not the way I wanted my first Thirteenth to go but sure I can’t do anything about it.

“As soon as it became clear that there would be no Sham Fight this year we put our heads together to come up with something else that we could do when the parade was cancelled.

“The first suggestion was to put out on our Facebook page last year’s parade. Everyone thought that was a good idea and then it progressed from that to getting the Sovereign Grand Master to say a word and then showing old photos and bits of the Sham Fight.

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“We got in touch with Sideline Films, they took all the footage including drone footage and we got a bit of history thrown into it. It all snowballed from a simple idea.

“We’ve seen a preview. We’re very pleased.”

He said: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought pain and despair to many households. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost loved ones, and we pay tribute to all those NHS heroes and other key workers who have been fighting on the frontline against this horrible disease.

“Although there is much sadness in the community, we hope our film will bring a little bit of cheer to our friends and supporters.

“The suits may not need dry cleaned or the seats left out on the Twelfth night this year, but I would still encourage people to watch our video in their own homes.”

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The 60-minute film in lieu of tomorrow’s annual Thirteenth celebrations in Scarva will be broadcast online at 11.15am – the exact moment the parade was due to get under way.

With technical assistance from Bessbrook-based Sideline Films members of the Royal Black Preceptory in Scarva were able to produce the hour-long programme.

It includes a religious message from Imperial Grand Chaplain Rev Nigel Reid, historical features on Scarva and the Sham Fight, and highlights of last year’s parade.

Members of RBP 1000 have been filmed laying a wreath at the village war memorial to local members of the security forces murdered during the Troubles, while mezzo-soprano Emma Brown has specially recorded a number of hymns in a church in the Netherlands.

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With no Sham Fight taking place this year, those who would normal cheer on King William in the demesne will be able to do the same from their armchairs as footage is shown from a previous battle in which – as always, King William emerges victorious over his old foe King James.

Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution, Rev William Anderson, who features in the video, said: “This is a wonderful initiative by the Sham Fight organisers and they are to be commended for their forward-thinking approach to a difficult situation.

“I know many people feel great sadness that there is no Scarva this year, but we have to remain vigilant in the fight against coronavirus, and hopefully we’ll return to Scarva next year when the celebrations will no doubt be bigger and better than ever.”

The Sham Fight organisers are acutely aware that there are many charities which will miss out on fundraising in Scarva this year. Sideline Films provided the technical know how for RBP 1000 to put together its first ever virtual Thirteenth.

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Sideline’s Ally McKenzie said he would have loved to film it himself, but as he was working on another commission he enlisted the help of Tommy Harris, a freelance videographer.

Ally said: “Tommy shot it in about two weeks, in mid-June. What they (RBP 1000) did was they ran it as they would run their normal day, with the speeches, etc, then they wanted to intercut some of the archive footage they have from previous years.

“I oversaw the edit with Tommy, putting it all together into a one-hour feature. It looks really well, Tommy has done a great job.”

Of the fate of the film and TV industry during lockdown, Ally said: “I was one of the lucky ones in that I got a commission just before lockdown for a new TV documentary. A lot of the stuff had been shot before lockdown came in so we’ve been doing post-production for the past eight or nine weeks.

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“It’s handier for documentary film makers because often you’re just out with one camera and a microphone, whereas the film and TV industry will be hit hard because they need 30 or 40 people on set.”

Ally is also responsible for an award-winning documentary following Newry City AFC during the 2016/17 season. A charity which is close to their hearts is St John Ambulance, which provides medical cover at the Sham Fight each year, and the organisers have set up a Just Giving page allowing people to donate online in aid of St John Ambulance.

The Scarva Sham Fight video will be broadcast on the Royal Black Institution’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, and the Royal 13th Facebook page, tomorrow at 11.15am.