“It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” is a famous music hall song, often sung by soldiers during the wars of the early part of the twentieth century. But it’s an even longer way from Ballymackey in Tipperary to Muscat. You might wonder why we mention this fact. There isn’t much, if anything, to connect Ballymackey and Muscat. The former is a small Irish town in Tipperary, with a population of just over 3000, and the latter is the capital city of Oman with a population of well over a million. The north-western European country of Ireland, in which Ballymackey sits, is far far away from the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia where Muscat resides on the coast of the Arabian sea. In fact, it’s over 5000 miles away via mainland Europe, Turkey, Iraq and Saudia Arabia before you can make the hop on to Muscat. And even travelling by plane nowadays, it would take over nine hours. Basically there is a gulf between them, in more ways than one.

However, back in 1915 these two places were intrinsically linked through a unique cover which set-off from the Emerald Isle, postmarked Ballymackey, addressed to a British soldier and after bouncing around various places in an effort to locate the recipient it arrived in Muscat, where the military man ended up, some ten weeks later. Why was he there? Well, back then the British were involved in a conflict known as the Imamate Rebellion, and British India forces were gathering in and around Muscat to protect the interests of the Empire.  As a result of these events there are a handful of covers from servicemen sent from Muscat, albeit they are scarce, but incoming mail to these troops during this conflict are extraordinarily rare. The featured cover is the only known mailing of this ilk, and it is part of a detailed study on the development of the Indian Post Office in Eastern Arabia, between 1864 and 1948, focused on Muscat. It’s a large gold medal winning collection and illustrates the changing rates, routes, postal censorships, cancellations and other postal markings that were used at the Muscat post office. The geography and the period means that other conflicts both before the Imamate Rebellion, which enabled a small Irish town to touch the shores of Arabia, and following it are represented right up to the second world war, when censorship marks became more prevalent, and air mail more of an influential services and of course registered and express mail were utlised by commercial and official sources to communicate in and out of what was a strategic location between the East and West.

Like our cover from Ireland these historical incidents provide the need for the field post offices and when this cover was sent to Tank in India and couldn’t find the intended recipient it was forwarded to Aden Camp, which is distinguished by the FPO 323, and was later sent onto FPO 324, which is Sheikh Othman, in search for the soldier, and then yet another location you’d never expect to see on a humble envelope sent from Tipperary, and not being successful in its travels, it made its way to Dera Ishmail Khan where it was re-addressed to Muscat to meet up with the British serviceman. The front and back of the cover sings its own story of what is a most unlikely journey, and more pertinently a very long long way from Ballymackey to Muscat