Hanna, Davoren (1975–94), poet, was born 12 March 1975 in Dublin, the only child of Jack Hanna, philosophy graduate, receptionist with Telecom Éireann (1975–85), and subsequently freelance journalist and sub-editor with the Irish Press; and Brighid Hanna (née Woods), schoolteacher. Born with a broken arm and fractured collar-bone, Davoren was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of six months, and as he grew older was found to have a particularly severe form of this condition, which was exacerbated by epilepsy. He was confined to a wheelchair and had no control over his movements; eating was difficult and speech an impossibility due to his harrowed tongue. Lack of ability to communicate led to his being assessed as mentally handicapped at the age of 2. His parents fought this verdict, and his mother taught him to read and write in 1982–3 by taking him on her lap and holding his thrashing fist as it aimed towards letters on a metallic board. He was then transferred to a typewriter and in June 1983 produced his first poem. Writing was a laborious process and required great empathy from his helper, who had often to guess which word he was trying to spell. This, together with the precocity of his thought and diction, led certain assessors to doubt that his poems were unaided works and not guided by his mother. However, in 1985 his poem ‘Utter tranquillity’ won first prize in the Irish schools creative writing awards; the following year he won a British Spastics Society's national literary award; and he took another prize in the Ćuirt 1987 international poetry festival before winning (September 1987) the Christy Brown (qv) award, sponsored by Dublin corporation. That year he left his school at the Central Remedial Clinic and attended St Patrick's national school, Drumcondra, proceeding the following year to Pobalscoil Rosmini. Government assistance, together with a bequest fund (launched after his appearance on the RTÉ show ‘Kenny live’), helped his parents provide the full-time care he required, which included having a helper accompany him to classes. His enormous charm and affectionate nature, together with his bouts of intense, rapturous energy and what the poet, Brendan Kennelly, called his ‘rascally sense of humour’ (Not common speech, 7), captivated those he came in contact with, from schoolfriends to other writers to his stream of mostly female helpers. The journalist and writer Deirdre Purcell wrote of him: ‘Dav was a liberator. His personality freed in others the finest of human qualities, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, loyalty, and love’ (Sunday Tribune, 24 July 1994).
In March 1990 a short collection of his poems, Not common speech, was published, with an introduction by Brendan Kennelly, and in September 1990 an RTÉ documentary was broadcast, ‘Poised for flight’, narrated by Daniel Day Lewis, which looked at the unsuccessful attempts to help Davoren communicate through a computer. His fame was then at its height; he won the Rehabilitation Institute's People of the Year award, and was 98 FM Dubliner of the Month (November 1990), but the year was marked by the tragically premature death of his mother from diabetes in July. Four years later, after increased suffering and frequent hospitalisations, he himself died in Dublin on 18 July 1994 from a heart attack and was buried in Fingal cemetery. Previously unpublished poems appeared in The friendship tree (1996), his father's moving memoir of his life.
A child prodigy, Davoren at the age of 8 was writing lines as mature as ‘vacant as cadavers, cavernous we lie’. Inevitably some of his hundreds of poems are marred by what his father called a certain ‘posturing precocity’ (Friendship tree, 83), but at its best his is a taut, graceful, witty, distinctive voice. The creative tension of a line such as ‘the dammed up seas of resonance shall take the arid earth by storm’ comes from his sense of physical entrapment in opposition to his soaring spirit. Despite moments of bitterness and a keen sense of kinship with the oppressed, his verse, with its panegyrics to friends and nature, is affirmative; his sense of wonderment in a world he sees as God's creation is reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins (qv). Brendan Kennelly called him a ‘gifting, cunning, resourceful, and often ruthless poet who, with a disabled body, had to do justice in language to the turbulence and wonder within him’ (ibid, i).