Yesterday John S. Wilkins and his commentators poured scorn and derision on the head of the Irish deputy Prime Minister Ms. Coughlan for her apparent ignorance in a political speech when she said; “like Einstein explaining his theory of evolution”. Now in this case the ignorance is theirs as Ms. Coughlan was clearly referring to the legendary German-Irish horse breeder Eamus O’Einstein (1769 – 1819), whose great-great-great-grandfather Hartmut Einstein a Catholic German horse breeder fled to Cork from Westphalia in the Thirty Years War.
This year the Irish are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of O’Einstein’s magnum opus On the Environmental Influences by the Improvement of Equine Breeding Stock. A New Method of Improving the Qualities of Steeple Chasers and Other Race Horses Based on the Biological Principles of Adaptive Evolution as Expounded by the Famous English Natural Philosopher Erasmus Darwin of Litchfield published Cork, 1809. The young O’Einstein met the English polymath at the Epsom Derby in 1790 as he was tending the horses of his then patron, the Earl of Ross. The good doctor explained his theory of evolution to the young horse breeder as they shared a glass or two of good Irish whiskey in the hospitality tent. After O’Einstein returned to Ireland the two of them conducted a scientific correspondence by carrier pigeon that continued up till Darwin’s death in 1802.
O’Einstein’s book caused a minor stir in academic circles when published but was soon forgotten outside of Ireland after Darwin’s Lamarckian theory was succeeded by the theory of natural selection of his grandson Charles. In Ireland however O’Einstein’s is still held in great honour as several notable winners of the Irish Derby were bred according to the methods set out in his book.
Biograpical details from O’Einstein’s obituary in the Irish Times for 19th October 1819.