Scarva on Wednesday endured its wettest July 13 in years – but Scarva is Scarva and 100,000 people were not to be deterred from their one-day-a-year extravaganza!
Starting at 11am the seemingly endless river of 4,000 Royal Black Preceptory members and 90 bands started to flow from the bottom of the village, through the Main Street, up the hill and into the Scarva Demesne.
Despite expectations of rain, however, the hordes of spectators were as numerous as ever; as usual it was difficult to move anywhere in the village, so thick were the crowds.
The Royal Black Preceptory bills the core spectacle of the day – the Sham Fight between King William III and James II – as the biggest one-day event at a single location in Northern Ireland.
The supporters came equipped with umbrellas, raincoats, tarpaulins and polythene ponchos.
Celebrating the battle of 1690, the warp and weave of the day is of course explicitly martial, and as spectators know and love this strongly carries over into the style of music.
Close to the bands, the battery of snare drums gave echoes of 1690 musket fire – and even more so rapid machine gun fire from the Battle of the Somme, a key theme in this year’s event.
Get too close and the drums made a physical impact on the ears, while the piercing flute notes cut right through; one can only imagine how such proud music would have struck fear into enemies on the battlefield of days gone by.
Row after row of disciplined marchers sported their martial uniforms and berets as they played.
One side of the street was almost completely covered with stalls for hot food, ice cream, flags and toys while the other was thick with spectators.
All ages and backgrounds of Blackmen strode purposefully by – one of the first a burly squad of kilt-wearing pipers.
As the preceptories and bands snaked through the village, they came to a triumphal arch on entering the desmesne, a huge ‘welcome’ sign hanging overhead. One band played Onward Christian Soldiers as they went under.
Old favourites wafted through the air, We Are The Billy Boys, The Sash, Thine Be The Glory.
The rain came down as hard as it could on three or four occasions. The legions of spectators lifted their brollies like rows of Spartan warriors putting shields into formation for battle, their foe the rain!
But Scarva is Scarva and it only comes once a year – nobody was going home early.
Of the familiar faces attending there was DUP MP David Simpson and MLA Jonathan Bell, along with recently elected Craigavon MLA Carla Lockhart. Her former council colleague, UUP councillor Colin McCusker, was also on parade – son of the late UUP MP Harold.
As one band played the Sash, spectators clapped and sang in support – one woman dancing in the street. A loud cheer went up as the tune ended.
Occasional shouts of martial encouragement went up to support the musicians as they passed.
VIPs who inspected the parade as it passed Scarva House included First Minister Arlene Foster and Northern Ireland Office Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Ben Wallace MP.
After the parade ended all eyes moved to the nearby square where William was to confront James once again.
However, the paparazzi had virtually taken over the pitch – prompting King William [John Adair] to swing his sword at them and shout “I am going to have to cut through this” before the fight could begin.
But with the weight of history behind him, his victory was never in doubt.
The pair shook hands afterwards with Mrs Foster and Mr Wallace, the former offering her commiserations to James, who told her mournfully: “I lost again.”
Next she complimented William on his glossy locks, to which he nodded at her own styling: “You would know all about it!” he said.