Ethna Carbery was the pen name of Anna Johnston, born in Ballymena, County Antrim, in Northern Ireland. Her father was a merchant and Sinn Féin organizer.
She published her first writing at age 15, and from then on contributed numerous poems and short stories to Irish periodicals that stimulated the early nationalist movement. She joined Alice Milligan, Maud Gonne, and others in lecture tours around the country. In 1900, she was a founder-member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann, the revolutionary women's organization led by Maud Gonne. With Alice Milligan, she founded and edited two nationalist journals, The Northern Patriot and the Shan Van Vocht, and wrote and produced plays as part of the movement's cultural activities. In 1901, she married Séamus MacManus, a poet and folklorist, and moved with him to County Donegal. It was during this time that she began writing under the pseudonym of Ethna Carbery. She died in 1905 at age 35 of gastritis. Her poems and stories were published posthumously by her husband in the The Four Winds of Erin (1902), a bestseller, and The Passionate Hearts (1903).