Mac Giolla Bhrighde was the eldest son of Frank and Nora MacBride. He had two sisters, Marie and Patricia and three brothers, Damian, Lughaidh and Oistín.
The MacBride family moved from their South Londonerry home to the Knock Road, Belfast, in 1964. It was then that Mac Giolla Bhrighde was introduced to physical force republicanism by his maternal grandmother, also called Nora, who was involved in the Irish War of Independence in the 1920s.
The MacBride family later moved to Killowen Street, which is located in a predominantly loyalist area of east Belfast. The family home was subjected to a number of attacks from loyalists. The attacks came in the form of window breaking and an attempted bombing but culminated in 1972 with the shooting of Mac Giolla Bhrighde and his father Frank.
In May 1972, two loyalist gunmen called to the MacBride family's door and Nora MacBride, who was carrying a baby at the time, went to answer the door. The men duped Mrs. MacBride into opening the door by stating that they were looking for Frank, a building contractor, and were seeking work. When the door was opened the gunmen then saw Frank coming down the narrow hallway to see who was at the door. They opened fire shooting Frank in the shoulder, hand and thighs, then Antoine came out from a side room to protect his father and was shot in the leg. Frank MacBride was hit by 12 bullets and never recovered from the attack, dying 17 months later.
Immediately after the shooting the family moved to Newtownards, County Down, and in the mid-1970s Mac Giolla Bhrighde left Northern Ireland to join the Irish Army in the Republic of Ireland. The McBride family then moved again, this time returning to their native County Londonderry. Mac Giolla Bhrighde served in the Irish Army for less than a year before being court-martialed for desertion and was dishonourably discharged.
After dismissal from the Irish Army, Mac Giolla Bhrighde became a volunteer in the South Derry Brigade of the IRA. He was involved in a number of operations as part of an active service unit which operated throughout the rural areas of County Londonderry.
Mac Giolla Bhrighde served in the regular Irish Army between February 1975 and June 1976. In 1979, Mac Giolla Bhrighde was stopped by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers near Magherafelt while in possession of a rifle. He was detained at Strabane RUC barracks and was later imprisoned for three years for this operation.
Mac Giolla Bhrighde, according to IRA sources quoted by journalist Ed Moloney, was noted for his hard line militarist republicanism. He is reputed to have backed a plan to form full-time guerrilla units or "flying columns" based in the Republic, which would carry out four or five large-scale attacks in the north a year.
This approach was espoused by the militant Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade led by Padraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, who wanted an escalation of the conflict to what they termed "total war". They were opposed by Kevin McKenna, the IRA Chief of Staff, and by the republican leadership based around Gerry Adams, on the grounds that actions of that scale were too big a risk and unsustainable. The IRA leadership wanted a smaller scale campaign of attrition, supplemented by political campaigning by Sinn Féin.
After his release from prison Mac Giolla Bhrighde, who had made a number of friends and contacts in Norway, became involved in providing information for the Irish republican cause throughout Scandinavia. After returning from Norway in November 1984, Mac Giolla Bhrighde along with fellow volunteer, Ciaran Fleming, undertook their final operation.
In the early hours of Sunday morning on 2 December 1984, in cold sleety conditions, Mac Giolla Bhrighde and Fleming stole a Toyota van in Pettigo, County Donegal. The van was then loaded with 9 beer kegs, each containing 100 lbs of low explosives. They then crossed the border and travelled to nearby Kesh, a village in the north of County Fermanagh. At the Drumrush Lodge Restaurant, just outside Kesh, they planted a landmine in a lane leading to the restaurant and wired up a device which was connected to an observation point. From there a hoax call was made to lure the British Army to the restaurant on the pretence that there was a firebomb planted within the restaurant.
Mac Giolla Bhrighde observed an RUC patrol car approaching the restaurant and gave the detonation code word "one", however, the mine failed to explode. There was another car parked in the car park which Mac Giolla Bhrighde believed to contain civilians, and he got out of the van from which he was observing the scene to warn the civilian car to leave the area.
According to the republican sources, when he approached the car, two Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers got out and commanded him to halt and drop his gun. Mac Giolla Bhrighde, who was unarmed, informed the SAS of this and then one of the SAS men stepped forward and shot him on his left side. He was then handcuffed and shot dead.
However, according to CAIN, there was a gun battle at the scene of the attempted bombing between a number of IRA men and British troops, in which Mac Giolla Bhrighde was killed. A British Army soldier, Lance Corporal Al Slater, from Leicestershire, was also killed in the exchange of fire, further contradicting the republican sources. Charles "Nish" Bruce served with Al Slater on this operation. His autobiography, Freefall, under the pseudonym Tom Read, accounts in detail an exchange of fire and the respective deaths of both Slater and Mac Giolla Bhrighde. Andy McNab, a former SAS soldier, also supports this view in his book Immediate Action. Mac Giolla Bhrighde's companion Ciarán Fleming drowned in the swollen Bannagh River as he tried to get away.
The British Army officially listed Slater as a member of the Parachute Regiment. However, an obituary appeared in the SAS magazine, Mars & Minerva, stating that Slater was a member of 7 Troop (Free Fall) 'B' Squadron of the SAS.
In 2002, a row erupted when a monument to Mac Giolla Bhrighde, Fleming and Sligo Volunteer Joe MacManus was sited close to the place where Protestant workmen William Hassard and Frederick Love were killed by the IRA in 1988.
A Sinn Féin spokesman stated that "The families of Ciaran Fleming, Joseph McManus and Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde, the three IRA men commemorated by the monument, had given the go-ahead for the structure to be moved".
The Republican Sinn Féin party branch in Glenade, County Leitrim is known as the Kieran Fleming/Tony McBride Cumann after Kieran Fleming and Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde.
On 29 January 2007, Sinn Féin member Lughaidh Mac Giolla Bhrighde, a younger brother of Mac Giolla Bhrighde, voted against giving the leadership the power to participate in the province's policing and justice structures at the extraordinary conference, or Ard Fheis, in Dublin.
His sister, Patricia Mac Bride, was appointed as one of the four Commissioners Designate of the Victims' Commission for Northern Ireland in January 2008.