Carbery, Ethna (1866–1902), poet, writer, and journalist, was born Anna Johnston 3 December 1866 into a catholic family in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, the second of three children. She lived nearly all her life in Belfast, where her father, Robert Johnston (qv), was a successful timber merchant and prominent Fenian organiser who for many years represented the north of Ireland on the IRB supreme council. Her mother Marjory (née Magee) came from Donegal.
Anna Johnston began writing as a young girl and was first published at the age of fifteen. Later she became a prolific contributor of poetry and short stories to a variety of Irish periodicals, among them United Ireland, Donahoe's Magazine, Young Ireland, the Nation, and the Catholic Fireside, sometimes using the pseudonym Ethna Carbery. She was also published in several American magazines, including Century and Criterion. In October 1895 she collaborated with her friend Alice Milligan (qv) to found the Northern Patriot, a radical monthly journal that openly advocated Irish separatism. Following a disagreement with the paper's sponsor, a Belfast workingmen's club, the women ceased their editorship after just three issues. Undeterred, in January 1896 they founded the Belfast-based literary magazine Shan Van Vocht, with its editorial offices located in Robert Johnston's timber yard. The two women edited, managed, and contributed to the magazine, which remained in circulation until March 1899. Although it was not allied to any particular political group, it had a strongly nationalist tone which did much to encourage both the Celtic revival and the foundation of Sinn Féin. Arthur Griffith (qv), who took over its subscription list for his United Irishman, was a particular admirer of the paper, whose contributors included Katharine Tynan (qv), Nora Hopper (qv), Seumas MacManus (qv), and Alice Furlong (qv). The paper also published the early writings of James Connolly (qv), though both women distanced themselves from his socialist agenda.
Through the journal Carbery played an active role in the centenary celebrations of the 1798 rebellion and, with Milligan, Maud Gonne (qv), John O'Leary (qv), and William Rooney (qv), toured the country, delivering lectures on the United Irishmen. In 1900 she assisted in Maud Gonne's Patriotic Children's Treat Committee, established to counter the Phoenix Park celebrations marking Queen Victoria's visit to Ireland. A member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann from its inception at Easter 1900, she became one of its four vice-presidents. Both she and Milligan were already well known in Gaelic League circles for their patriotic short plays which they staged throughout the country, and, on the invitation of Gonne, they performed similar productions for Inghinidhe na hÉireann as part of the organisation's cultural activities.
Carbery married Seumas MacManus (to whom she had already written several love poems) in August 1901, and moved with him to Revlin House, Co. Donegal. She died there of gastritis 2 April 1902 and was buried at Frosses, Co. Donegal. Her poetry, edited by her husband, was posthumously published as The four winds of Eirinn (1902). The pathos of her death, at age 36 and so soon after her marriage, enhanced the popularity of the book, which went through ten editions in 1902 alone and many subsequent editions. In the years after her death she was possibly the most widely read poet in Ireland. Two further volumes of stories appeared – The passionate hearts (1903) and In the Celtic past (1904) – and some of her verse was later anthologised alongside pieces by Milligan and MacManus in We sang for Ireland (1950).