Unlike in Scotland, the ministers in Ireland who were put out of their churches following the Restoration of Charles II didn’t start preaching in the fields. Instead, they just agreed to stop preaching and tried to minister to their people in private. They also agreed to stop holding Presbytery meetings, and basically did whatever the king and government told them. They thought that if they could show they were peaceful citizens, the government would tolerate them and allow them to preach again.
The only ministers who refused to accept the government’s ban on preaching were three young men who had just come over from Scotland: Michael Bruce, John Crookshanks (originally from Derry) and Andrew McCormick. They preached in fields, forests and barns, often at night. In the eyes of the ordinary people, Bruce and his two friends were the only faithful, courageous and zealous ministers left.
When the persecution got worse, they fled to Scotland. Crookshanks and McCormick were both killed during the Pentland Rising in 1666.
By this time, most of the Presbyterians in Ireland had quietly forgotten about the Solemn League and Covenant, so they wouldn’t annoy the king. When the government heard a rumour that they planned to renew it, they quickly denied it. Because of this, they were now facing less persecution from the government and began preaching again and holding Presbytery meetings (but without elders) in houses. However Bruce came back over in 1668 and persuaded people in Dunluce, Kilconway, Glenarm, and Cary to sign the covenant.
Later that year he was finally arrested in Scotland, and sentenced to be banished to Africa, but king Charles eventually let him be exiled to Killinchy, Co. Down. In 1689 he returned to Scotland once more and became the minister of Samuel Rutherford’s old church at Anwoth.
James Seaton Reid, History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, ed. W. D. Killen (3 vols, 3rd edn, Belfast, 1867), ii.
Covenanters in Ulster: Michael Bruce
Covenanters in Ulster: Andrew McCormick
Ian McBride, Scripture politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish radicals in the late eighteenth century (Oxford, 1998), ch. 3
Richard L. Greaves, ‘Bruce, Michael (1635–1693)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004