This is the time of the year, annually for the past seven or eight years, when we can learn something new and intriguing about some of Northern Ireland’s extra-special people and uniquely scenic places - by looking at postage stamps.
Back in 2013 Roamer-readers were introduced to Portadown-born Sir Robert Hart who was undoubtedly the most important westerner administrating China’s Qing Dynasty between the 1860s and early 1900s.
And there was Margaret Elizabeth Noble born in 1867 in Dungannon.
As Sister Nivedita, a name given to her by the influential Indian Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, she tirelessly served the sick and homeless in Calcutta and in the flood and famine-ravished villages of Bengal, where she died of malaria in 1911.
Two years ago at the end of September we learnt about an inaugural airmail flight in 1928, from Liverpool to Belfast and back.
As part of Liverpool’s Civic Week, a triple-engine Short S8 seaplane carrying a specially-printed, decorated, stamped and dated air-mail letter swooped in, landed on a crowd-lined Lagan, handed over the envelope, and returned to the Mersey!
And last September, amongst a long list of eye-openers, we were told everything we didn’t know about Ballycopeland Windmill in County Down.
Yes - some folk may already know some of the stories - but around about now, every year, John Proctor, Secretary of the Portadown and District Philatelic Society, tells us what’s happening in the Society’s annual Stampex exhibition and fair.
And many of the postage stamps in the various displays down the years commemorate famous local folk, historic events and well-known locations.
This year’s Stampex event is tomorrow, in Portadown Town Hall.
There’ll be the usual displays of stamps, first-day covers, postcards and postal history from the UK, Ireland and other commonwealth and European countries.
The Air Post Exhibition of 1934 is on display, along with stamps from the reigns of King George V, Edward VIII and George VI.
John Proctor told me about another of tomorrow’s exhibits - a special postmark that relocated Londonderry to Enniskillen!
When a new postage stamp is issued by Royal Mail, a sponsoring company often prints and publishes decorative first day covers and various other collectibles relating to the picture on the stamp.
These philatelic extras can include a ‘slogan postmark’ - additional information stamped on the envelope - or a ‘hand stamp’ - a bit like a free postage stamp with extra artwork and related information.
A set of eight ‘Curious Customs’ stamps were issued last July, celebrating strange traditions and unusual celebrations around the UK.
Brighton’s Burning the Clocks Festival marking the Winter Solstice was amongst the eight, along with the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling Festival near Gloucester and Egremont’s World Gurning Championships in Cumbria.
Each got a well-deserved commemorative postage stamp, and so did Londonderry’s famous Halloween Festival.
The special £1.55 Londonderry stamp celebrated the city’s annual five-day extravaganza in October.
Well-known as Derry-Londonderry, the stamp exhibited tomorrow comes with an explanation of Londonderry’s relocation to Enniskillen.
“The Royal Mail found that the only ‘Derry’ in Northern Ireland was a location which has Enniskillen as its post-town and advised the sponsor (historic, independent collectables retailer Benhams) and suggested that their handstamp bearing Derry-Londonderry was changed to Derry, Enniskillen. This was despite the fact that the stamp itself is captioned ‘Derry-Londonderry.’”
I asked John Proctor where Enniskillen’s Derry is.
He’s not exactly sure but reckons it’s “an area south east of Enniskillen and although covered by a postcode is largely uninhabited…just a little townland.” (Hopefully a Fermanagh-reader will enlighten Roamer about its whereabouts!)
Another local-interest stamp on show tomorrow in Portadown features Glenariff Forest Park.
Last month, the Royal Mail celebrated the centenary of the Forestry Commission - dedicated to helping wildlife and public forests to flourish - with a stunning collection of six special postage stamps.
Along with the awesomely scenic Glen Affric in Scotland, Nottinghamshire’s legendary Sherwood Forest and Coed y Brenin Forest in Wales, Glenariff Forest Park in County Antrim is featured on a stamp showing one of the forest’s three spectacular waterfalls.
Once again, the spectacularly beautiful little perforated picture is displayed along with a potted history of the 2,928-acre (1,000 hectares) park with its “beautiful mixture of views and trails that allow the visitor a wide variety of walks and activities.”
The stamp shows one of the forest’s three picturesque waterfalls, accessible by a unique Waterfall Walk - a steep path up the vertical sides of the gorge and along elevated boardwalks.
Glenariff, one of nine Antrim glens, is known as the Queen of Glens.
The famous novelist, author and illustrator William Makepeace Thackery called the glen ‘a Switzerland in miniature’ in his Irish sketch book in 1843.
There’s also an interesting slogan postmark at Stampex celebrating July’s British Open Golf Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
The postmark was only used by the Royal Mail for a couple of days - until England’s Cricket team won the World Cup, when it was replaced by a cricket slogan!
But Portrush’s is there tomorrow, at the entrance-free Portadown Stampex and Collectors Fair in Portadown Town Hall, from 9.30 am until 3 pm.
“Bring along any collectibles, as well as stamps,” John Proctor told Roamer “old cigarette cards, medals, badges or anything else of interest. They can be identified or valued free of charge by dealers and specialist collectors in attendance.”