The recent death of John Hanna leaves a widely perceptible gap in the ranks of Sir Knights flocking to the former councillor’s beloved Scarva for today’s celebrations.
The traditional ‘Thirteenth’ outing for the Royal Black Institution goes ahead absent a man who was part of the fabric of village life in Scarva and a leading proponent of raising the international profile of its annual celebrations and signature Sham Fight.
Mr Hanna was a member of the Sham fight committee and only a week before his tragic death in a road accident the former Banbridge councillor attended a meeting of the RBP 1000 organisers of an event he envisioned as a fully fledged international festival.
For John’s wife of 26 years, Joan - a serving Ulster Unionist councillor on the Causeway Coast and Glens Council, under her maiden name of Baird - today’s events, little more than three weeks after her husband’s death, have an added poignancy.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she said: “The village of Scarva was dear to John. It was his home place and he always tried to promote it along with the wider Banbridge area.”
The two spent much of their time apart, representing, as they did, interests in far-flung parts of the province, and Mr Hanna was no stranger to train journeys, travelling back and forth from Ballintoy and Banbridge.
Certainly he was a passionate campaigner for the revitalisation of Scarva railway halt and the introduction there of a park-and-ride facility.
In the difficult days since Mr Hanna’s death Councillor Baird has received a great deal of support both from Banbridge and from her own area near Ballintoy, where it transpired her late husband was more widely known than she and her family had imagined.
“I suppose it was because he was a real people person and could make friends anywhere,” she told the Belfast Telegraph. “The reaction to his death has taken me a bit by surprise.”
Among other things, by turns an engineer, researcher and teacher, Mr Hanna, though making no claim to be a farmer, kept a small farm and maintained an interest in agriculture.
It was through that interest that he met his wife - at Clogher Valley agricultural show - and tragically, it was through that interest that he met his death, when the vintage tractor he planned to exhibit at rallies overturned as he was driving it a short distance home.