Milliken, (Millikin) Richard Alfred (1767–1815), poet, painter, and dramatist, was born 8 September 1767, the second eldest of five children of Robert Milliken, of Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, and Elizabeth Milliken (née Battaley), of Wiltshire. Of Scottish quaker ancestry (though by his birth the family were conforming to the established church), after attending school in Castlemartyr, at age 13 he went to Midleton school; thereafter his family moved to Cork city, where he became a lawyer's apprentice. Three years later he moved to Dublin to enter the courts of law, but his admission was obstructed by another lawyer, who held that Milliken, being a painter, was unsuitable for the legal profession. Eventually he was admitted to the King's Inns (1792), then returned to Cork to work as a debt collector. His employment being limited owing to lack of patronage, he devoted much time to composing sonnets and translating parts of the odes of Anacreon. Several of his poems were published in a Cork magazine, the Monthly Miscellany, in 1795. With his sister, teacher and novelist Anna Milliken, he edited a monthly literary publication, The Casket, or Hesperian Magazine (1797–8), within which some of his poems, including ‘Sonnet to spring’ and ‘The beggar boy’, first appeared. At the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion, he joined the Royal Cork Volunteers yeomanry corps, where he was promoted from the ranks and made secretary. He composed his best known poem ‘The groves of Blarney’ (1797/8) after hearing the song ‘Sweet Castle Hyde’ at a party, and determining to surpass the absurdity of the latter burlesque. Although written in a humorous, even nonsensical tone, his poem evokes submerged political feeling through its evocation of ‘Lady Jeffreys’ (the pro-rightboy Arabella Jeffereyes (qv), once proprietor of Blarney castle). The now standard text of the poem – that included in The popular songs of Ireland (1834), edited by T. Crofton Croker (qv) – includes additional stanzas (perhaps by Father Prout (qv)) to those written by Milliken. This and other features of the poem – its spontaneous composition, uncertain date, setting to a traditional tune, and history of public performance – are traits more usually associated with anonymous folk poetry.
Milliken's other familiar work, the dialect poem ‘De groves of de Pool’, ironically describes the return (the ‘advance back again’) of the Cork city militia after the 1798 rising. Joining the Apollo Society of Amateur Actors, Patrick St., Cork, on its formation (1805), he designed sets and acted in their productions; money raised by the society was used for charitable purposes locally. His comedy ‘Dongourney in Egypt’ was performed in Sadler's Wells theatre, London (1805–6). Other of his plays include ‘Darby in arms’, performed in Dublin (1810), ‘Macha’, and ‘Anaconda’. His lengthy blank-verse poem The river-side (1807), a quarto volume in three books, was dedicated to members of the Cork Library Society. The slave of Surinam; or, Innocent victim of cruelty (1810) is a romantic tale set in the South American Dutch colony. He wrote a prologue for a puppet exhibition, the ‘Patagonian Theatre’, held in Cork Institution. He was also a watercolour artist, and took lessons from Francis Nicholson of London. Hoping to cultivate the study of the fine arts in Cork, he helped establish the First Munster Exhibition of Original Pictures (1815), where some sixteen of his paintings were shown. After suffering a stroke he died in Cork on 16 December 1815, and was buried in Douglas cemetery near the city. A tomb bearing an epitaph was placed over his grave in 1817. When the Cork Society for Promoting the Fine Arts was established (1816), a memorial exhibition of twenty-five of his paintings was held. His sister Anna Milliken (d. 1823) wrote several historical novels, including Corfe Castle (1793) and Plantaganet; or, Secrets of the house of Anjou: a tale of the twelfth century (1802), and composed An epitome of ancient history (1808) for the use of her pupils in the English Academy for Females in Cork. In 1823 she published the collection Poetical fragments of the late Richard Alfred Millikin, which includes a portrait, and for which she wrote a biographical memoir.