A Queens sanitation worker has been awarded a scholarship to study Gaelic in Ireland this summer by the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange, the same body responsible for the prestigious Fulbright program.
Far Rockaway native Edward (Shevy) Shevlin, 50, who has worked with the city’s Sanitation Department for the past 18 years, has been awarded an Irish Language Summer Study Award which will see him travel to Carraroe, Co. Galway this July for an intensive four-week program.
“I was really surprised,” Shevlin told the Irish Voice on Tuesday, after his story was first publicized in the Daily News. “This is the most prestigious award I have ever received.”
The aim of the awards is to support short-term study in Ireland for U.S. citizens. They are supported by the Irish government and the Irish National Lottery.
Shevlin is one of 20 candidates to be awarded a scholarship of up to $7,000 to cover travel tuition and living expenses for the course of their studies.
Already an advanced Irish speaker, he told the Irish Voice he often uses the language in his job as a sanitation worker.
“When I hear people in the street with an Irish accent I always hit them with dia dhuit ar maidin (good morning) or conas atá tú (how are you?) and most of them are taken aback,” he said.
The first person he called was his Cork-born mother, who was “absolutely delighted” with his good news.
Shevlin, the oldest of three boys, grew up surrounded by Irish in the Rockaways. He describes his childhood as “fabulous.”
“There was always someone coming and going to Ireland,” he recalls.
“We didn’t live an extravagant life but we were always wearing clean clothes and never hungry.”
Despite dropping out of high school at a young age, the Irish American returned to his studies when he turned 30 and earned a high school equivalency diploma before beginning work with the civil service.
After hearing Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams deliver a speech in both English and Gaelic, he was inspired to learn his native language.
Shevlin was just an infant when he made his maiden voyage to Ireland to see his grandparents. More than a dozen trips later, he decided the best place to learn the language was in the Emerald Isle.
In 2009 he traveled to the west of Ireland where he enrolled in an Irish language summer school program hosted by the National University of Ireland in Galway. Eager to further his Irish language skills, when he returned he began an Irish language study course at Lehman College in the Bronx.
“I have gone to Ireland as infant, as a drunk, a rugby player and as a student, but going over a student is very gratifying for me,” he said, admitting he loves the fresh air and music.
“I love to be there as nothing is really new for me. I feel like I am in Rockaway beach,” he added.
As well as his busy work schedule with the Sanitation Department and passion for the Irish language,
Shevlin is pursuing a bachelor's degree at Empire State College. He is graduating this month with an associate degree in historical studies, and hopes to eventually attain a master’s degree in Irish studies from the Glucksman Ireland House in NYU.
Friends and family are delighted for the city worker, who balances studies with his full time job.
“We are all ecstatic in our organization,” said Tom Doyle, the president of the Department of Sanitation’s Emerald Society.
“It is not easy to do what he is doing beside what he normally does as a sanitation worker,” Doyle told the Irish Voice.
“He is very giving to other people and he is a great community guy.”
Testament to this, Shevlin rode his motorcycle cross country in 2007, to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, after a baby in his neighborhood was born with the disease.
Right now Shevlin, who boasts a large tattoo on right arm that says “Saoirse,” the Gaelic for freedom, is preparing for his trip in July and is looking forward to staying with the same host family from his 2009 trip.
“I’m staying with the Seoige family in Carraroe and I may even get my old room back!” he laughed.