Three Irish firms on starting and growing

Three Irish firms chart their journey from the early stages to the moments they realised their businesses had become successful.

Starting a new business is exciting, but alarmingly very few companies manage to survive the first three years. 

ThinkBusiness spoke to three firms from Cork and Kerry that started small but managed to scale. 

Supports for new businesses

Loughbeg Farm began selling homemade jams, chutneys, and ice cream at farmers’ markets before starting to make gluten free bread in 2014. Within a year, it was selling its gluten-free bread and tea bracks in over 100 SuperValus across Ireland, and subsequently appeared on RTÉs Dragon’s Den where it secured investments from Alison Cowzer and Eamon Quinn. 

Company founder Walter Ryan-Purcell had previously worked in the industrial composting and renewable energy industries before finding himself unemployed. “There is so much help available to start-ups in Ireland,” he says. “I was able to get on the Back to Work Scheme, which allows you to keep your unemployment benefit while you are getting yourself off the ground, as well as grant aid for yourself and your employees.

“SuperValu’s Food Academy programme was also an incredible leg-up. Not only did we get excellent tuition from the retail experts, but it was wonderful to meet up with like-minded entrepreneurs.”

Overcoming challenges

Cork’s INTEGREAT was founded by Gerry O’Connor in 2011, providing joinery design and interior fit-outs to high-end contractors and designers. Having worked in the UK for eight years, Gerry went to work as a production manager in his native Cork with a joinery manufacturer, before the economic downturn cost him his job. Like Walter at Loughbeg Farm, Gerry decided to turn his unemployment into an opportunity to start a business.  

Today his client list boasts some powerful UK brands including Selfridges and Sheraton Park Lane. However, it hasn’t always been easy for the budding entrepreneur. “Our business is service based and operating remotely, and we found the lack of adequate broadband to be a real threat to our success,” he explains. 

“Following two frustrating years of slow speed broadband, a new provider to our area improved the service to a manageable level. Faster speed broadband is essential to our future development.”

Sub-standard IT infrastructure wasn’t the only barrier for the start-up, however; the economic climate at the time also presented challenges. “The decimation of the construction industry and the economic recession created its challenges. Potential clients were scarce. We had no marketing experience and often found it difficult to get our message across.”

Knowing you’ve made it

The transition from being a start-up to a successful business is a gradual process, but Gerry can pinpoint one moment in particular that was significant for INTEGREAT. “The key moment for us was in September 2013 when we were asked to head up the contractor’s design team on a high-end retail fit-out on Regent’s Street in London. It involved more time spent in the UK but had the added benefit of our brand being more visible and spreading our network of contacts. It resulted in more business.” 

For Walter and Loughbeg Farm, the critical moment for his company came with a deal from SuperValu. “We suddenly went from supplying a handful of shops to providing every SuperValu in Cork and Kerry. Our turnover grew to over €5,000 per week. It all happened very quickly.”

Steady growth 

For the founders of Cahersiveen’s K&T Bakery, there was no single crucial moment in the story of their business, but rather a constant trend of growth. 

Owners Katarzyna and Tomasz Gwis emigrated from Poland to Ireland in 2006 and worked a variety of jobs until they found themselves out of work in 2014. 

The couple had come from a rich tradition of bakery in Poland, and with time on their hands, they decided to start selling bread and cakes at car boot sales and country markets. 

Sales were so good that they decided to open the K&T Bakery in Cahirsiveen and subsequently opened a restaurant and café in the town. “It’s hard to specify a particular moment when we realised the business had become a success,” says Katie, the former childcare assistant who now employs 15 people. “It was just a gradual process where we started to get a steady group of customers and were supplying our goods to shops in surrounding towns and villages. We just found ourselves getting busier and busier, and customers were coming back for more.”

What’s next?

The three businesses say they will stay focused on what opportunities come next. 

For Loughbeg Farms, the future holds more sales and potential exports. “We plan to continue to build up sales steadily in all SuperValus here in Ireland and very shortly we intend to slice and freeze our bread for sale in the UK and elsewhere.” 

For INTEGREAT, Gerry will keep his eye on new technology and how it can help grow his business. “3D modelling for drawings is something we are still skirting around the edges with. However, if we apply ourselves to build up the necessary skills, it would be an asset to how we produce drawings and allow us to offer this service for special projects at a premium rate.”

Finally for the K&T Bakery, Katie too hopes she can take her products to a wider market. “For now, we would like to stabilise the café and spread our delivery route wider,” she says. “We are taking each day as it comes.”

The three companies featured are 2016 regional winners of The Irish Local Development Network Enterprise Awards. Pictured above are: Katarzyna Gwis of K & T Bakery, (Kerry); Walter Ryan-Purcell of LoughBeg Farm (West Cork);and Gerry O’Connor of Intergreat (East Cork).

Article by Peter Flanagan.

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Tax back when transferring a property

The business advice clinic, in association with PKF O’Connor, Leddy & Holmes. In this session, Catherine McGovern, tax director, talks about what happens when you transfer a residential property to one of your children.


Catherine McGovern PDKI am considering transferring a residential property to my child to be used as their principal private residence, is there any tax relief available?

Where a residential property is transferred by gift or inheritance to a child, such a transfer would ordinarily be a Capital Acquisitions Tax event. This may result in a Capital Acquisitions Tax liability or the utilisation of the child’s Capital Acquisitions Tax-free threshold (currently €280,000 on transfers from a parent to a child).

Provided certain conditions are satisfied, the transfer of residential property to be used as the child’s principal private residence may be exempt from Capital Acquisitions Tax.

For detailed information it is best to seek legal advice.

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Help, I have a crazy business idea

Your business idea may seem slightly off-the-wall. However, if it solves a problem for potentially millions of people, it could be a winner. Here are five ideas that beat the odds and became money-makers. 

Coming up with an idea for a new product isn’t easy. However, these five people turned simple yet crazy concepts into soaring businesses.


The Trunki

Entrepreneur Rob Law first showcased the idea of a kid’s ride-on-suitcase in 2006 on the UK Dragon’s Den. However, it didn’t appeal to the judges. His idea was simple – a travel suitcase for kids. The Trunki comes in playful colours and characters. It also holds a pillow and blanket for children while travelling. Today the company, Magmatic, is in its 10th year and was valued at £13m in 2013.

aqua notes

A waterproof shower notepad

AquaNotes is a waterproof notepad that allows you to record your great ideas while in the shower. It’s so durable you can even write on it underwater. It’s a simple concept as many of us get our best ideas while in the shower.

Waterproof inflatable sofa

While an inflatable sofa seems like a basic idea, Dutch company LamZac took it to a whole new level. Its sofa uses new air technology that allows it to retract into a tiny package, making it ideal for carrying to festivals or while travelling light. The sofa, which doesn’t need to be blown up, is floatable so it can be also used in pools.



Dog Goggles – the first and only eye protection designed and created just for dogs. Crazy? Last year, sales were at $3 million, according to CNBC. Roni Di Lullo is the woman behind the doggy fashion empire and also sells backpacks, jackets, toys, and jewellery for dogs. Not so crazy after all.


translating ear buds

An ear piece that translates foreign languages in real time

It’s a genius idea that shows how fast technology is moving. The New York City-based start-up Waverly Labs is about to release what it says is the world’s first ‘smart’ earpiece that translates conversations between users speaking different languages. The earpiece will work without Wi-Fi and will allow people (speaking different languages) to communicate with each other. While the company is still in its pilot stage, there’s no doubt it will be hugely successful if the product works. 

READ: I have an idea, how do I start a business?

Article by Catherine Devine. Images from Shutterstock, Waverly Labs, AquaNotes and Trunki.

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Rachel Allen’s desert island foods

Travelling West to Gort, Co. Galway, ThinkBusiness spoke to local food and drink business owners and caught up with Rachel Allen to chat about Irish food trends.

ThinkBusiness went west recently to an Enterprise Town event to see what the business people of Gort were doing.

Here we found an eclectic mix of small businesses, all with one thing in mind – growing their firms in a sustainable way.

We met Colin Rogers, owner of One Stop Printing; the great Clare Colohan of the Galway Food Company; Aidan Murphy from Galway Hooker beers; and the passionate restaurant owner Fanya O’Donoghue from Sasta Restaurant. 

ThinkBusiness also caught up with celebrity cook and author Rachel Allen. We asked her about the latest Irish food trends, what it takes to start a food business, and what Irish foods she simply couldn’t live without. 

Main image, press still from GustoTV’s ‘Rachel Allen’s All Things Sweet’.


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Will your business benefit from a digital single market?

The European Commission has taken the first steps towards a Digital Single Market. The idea is to make it easier for SMEs to sell online across Europe. What does this mean for your business?

Ever tried to buy something online from another EU country only to find yourself rerouted, unable to complete the transaction, or told the offer you’re trying to avail of isn’t available in Ireland? You’ve probably been geo-blocked; this is the term used when a person in the EU is blocked from buying goods or services from a company in another EU member state. 

Geo-blocking is not just a hindrance for shoppers, its goes against the principles of the EU single market, and the European Commission has started to take action.  

In a landmark case, Disneyland Paris was forced to offer French and non-French visitors to its website the same discounts and special offers, and the Commission has just agreed on further actions to remove online barriers for shoppers and businesses, creating a ‘Digital Single Market’ for the first time. 

What would a DSM look like?

Easier cross-border e-commerce

Consumer regulations would be harmonised; copyright laws would be modernised, and tax rules would also be simplified. 

More efficient and affordable deliveries

Getting a parcel delivered from abroad can be pricey and serves as a significant disincentive for consumers. The DSM would make deliveries more cost-effective for everyone involved. 

End of price discrimination 

All European customers will be entitled to the same good and services for the same price; no more geo-blocking. 

Improved, pan-European infrastructure 

Digital infrastructure will be enhanced right across the EU, with better coordination between states and even pan-European services and networks. 

Business people strike agreement

Does the DSM go far enough? 

The proposed Digital Single Market does bring with it some risks and concerns. The European eCommerce and & Omni-Channel Trade Association (EMOTA) expressed concern that new obligations on sellers surrounding parcel delivery could have negative effects on competition.

EMOTA’s secretary general, Maurits Bruggink said, “although this is a step in the right direction, much greater efforts are needed to stimulate the growth of intra-European e-commerce and consequently bring prices down for online stores, in particular regarding cross-border delivery”. 

Meanwhile, 72% of European internet users are concerned about internet privacy and their personal data so that Data Protection Regulation will be the key to the success of the DSM. 


READ: How to set up an online store. 

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Strategic thinking and The Butler’s Pantry

Jacquie Marsh, founder of The Butler’s Pantry, talks about her business success and what drives her ambition.

jacquie marsh butlers pantry

The idea behind my business is simple. Make fantastic food. In the great Irish houses of old, the finest ingredients were always kept locked in the butler’s pantry, and we remain true to this.

I think my biggest achievement was to not just to have survived the recession but to have come through it a far more sophisticated business and, as a result, ready for growth again..

In the past few years we had to stand back and ask ourselves what our core competencies are and focus on those. We did a complete business process review and, if any single aspect of the business wasn’t profitable, either made it so or cut it out.

We also had to really focus on our unique difference- that we trawl the country looking for the best small producers and growers, who make the best ingredients, which we choose because it results in a superior dish.

What was the lowest moment in your business life?

Every low, like every mistake, brings its own learning and boy have we learned! But one of the biggest stand outs was when Dublin City Council put a quality bus corridor outside our Mount Merrion Avenue store, leaving customers with nowhere to park. That cut our business there in half, overnight.

More regular lows come when great people leave the business. It’s always for the right reasons, because they are on a career path and why wouldn’t they, but it’s heartbreaking to lose good people.

“During the recession, we saw some fantastic suppliers, really outstanding producers, going out of business through absolutely no fault of their own, they did nothing wrong. That’s heartbreaking too”

In business you have to be resourceful and resilient. I also surround myself with great people – many heads are better than one.

What do I think of risk? Embrace it, but manage it.

Who has inspired or motivated you and why?

My father for his entrepreneurial spirit. He manufactured and exported clothing around Europe and was one of the first to introduce zippers to men’s trousers. Even back in the 1960s he had the wisdom to think globally. And my mother for her sense of balance and belief in inner strength.

“Trust your instinct, it will rarely fail you. And if it does, always remember that the man who has made no mistakes has not lived at all”

Switching off

I enjoy walking the coast road in Dun Laoghaire every day with our Labradors, I love to feel the soil between my fingers working in the garden and, most of all, I love music – it’s so good for the soul – so I sing in a choir with a great bunch of choristers.

If I were to start again, what would I do differently? Not a huge amount, I’d still start small and think big.

I’ve learned a lot from my business. The main thing I’ve learned is the value of regularly asking yourself, and understanding, what is your business’s point of difference. Also, the importance of clear strategic thinking – it has got me out of lots of tough decisions and through some bad days.

If I were to give one piece of advice to someone thinking of going into business? Trust your instinct, it will rarely fail you. And if it does, always remember that the man who has made no mistakes has not lived at all.

READ: How to start a food business in Ireland.

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How to win tenders – public and private

Help is at hand for small business owners when it comes to the tendering process. 

The procurement market in Ireland is worth approximately €12 billion a year. It’s a huge opportunity for small businesses.

However, this enormous market is often untapped. Why? Simply because the formal tendering process is a minefield for most SME owners.

how to win tenders in ireland

To give you the best chance to access this vast money pool, help is at hand from InterTradeIreland.

InterTradeIreland says it has been “helping SMEs to win public sector contracts for many years”.

For more information on practical workshops, face-to-face meetings with buyers, financial supports, advisory services and more, go to InterTradeIreland’s ‘Know how to tender successfully’ portal.

READ: What is the Social Innovation Fund and can it help my business grow?

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Top five things to know – succession planning

The five tax reliefs you may be entitled to when you retire from your business.

Retirement from your business and the passing of assets and wealth to the next generation is an area that requires comprehensive tax planning, considering the wealth of the tax reliefs available. Below is a brief description of the five tax reliefs that are available in this regard.

Retirement relief

In the future, you may be considering disposing of your shares to a third party or transferring same to your children.

Retirement Relief is a relief for Capital Gains Tax on disposal of qualifying business assets. This relief can significantly reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the Capital Gains Tax liability arising for a business owner on the disposal of part/all of the business or shares in a qualifying trade company.

In order to qualify for relief, the individual must have attained the age of 55 years.

The relief available depends on both the age of the individual at the time of disposal and the relationship between the individual and the person to whom the business/shares are disposed to.

retirement plans

Where all conditions of the relief are satisfied, the following relief may be available:

–        For disposals to children, where the business owner is between 55 and 66 years of age, there is no limit on the amount of the relief.

–        For disposals to children where the business owner has reached the age of 66, the maximum retirement relief available is €3 million.

–        Where the disposal is to someone other than a child the maximum retirement relief available is €750,000 where the business owner is between 55 and 66 years of age.

–        Where the disposal is to someone other than a child and the business owner has reached the age of 66 years the maximum retirement relief available is €500,000.

Due to the fact that some of the conditions of the relief take up to 10 years to satisfy, careful tax planning is required to ensure that maximum relief can be claimed.

Company share buy-back relief

Alternatively, where your company has sufficient retained reserves, the company may acquire your shares (rather than your fellow shareholders or a third party).

Where a trade company were to acquire an individual’s shares, the shareholder would be chargeable to Income Tax, USC and PRSI at his marginal rate on the sales proceeds (52%/55%).

A relief known as ‘company buyback of shares relief’ exists to treat the acquisition of your shares by your company as a Capital Gains Tax (33%) as opposed to an Income Tax Event (52/55%).  This is subject to certain conditions being satisfied by both the shareholder and the company.

retirement plans

Business assets relief

A CAT liability may arise for the person receiving the gift/inheritance of business assets. Business Asset Relief can significantly reduce the CAT liability arising on the receipt of qualifying business assets.

This relief operates by reducing the taxable value of the qualifying business assets by 90%. There are a number of conditions to be satisfied in order for the relief to apply.

Business Asset Relief applies not only in respect of shares in a qualifying trading company but may also apply to assets used by the company (e.g. commercial property). The relief also applies to the assets of a business (e.g. sole trader). However, Business Asset Relief does not apply to investment assets. 

Small gifts exemption

Where you are considering making a future gift/inheritance of cash, you may consider using the small gifts exemption in order to reduce the future CAT liability for the receipt of same.

The small gifts exemption, treats the first €3,000 of gifts received from each person each year is exempt from CAT. Although this may not sound like a significant amount in the context of a future gift/inheritance, where advance planning is undertaken this exemption can be utilised to achieve significant future CAT savings. 

retirement plans

Consider the following example, David is married, with two children and five grandchildren. David and his wife have cash of €500,000 which they will not use in their lifetime and intend to bequeath to their children, children’s spouses and grandchildren. Assuming David’s children and grandchildren have otherwise used their group tax thresholds, the future inheritance of the cash would result in a tax liability of €165,000 (i.e. the family would receive only €335,000 of the €500,000 bequeathed).

However, where David and his wife had made annual gifts of €3,000 to their family (children, children’s spouses and grandchildren), the tax liability could have been reduced. David and his wife could each make an annual gift of €27,000 (€54,000 in total) to the family tax free.  Over 10 years, David and his wife could gift the €500,000 without their family incurring a tax liability, resulting in a tax saving for their family of €165,000.

Dwelling house exemption

The Dwelling House Exemption provides a total exemption from CAT in respect of both the gift/inheritance of a residential property, or part thereof, which the recipient will occupy as their Principal Private Residence. There are a number of conditions to be satisfied by both the recipient and the person making the gift/inheritance. Stamp Duty and Capital Gains Tax must also be considered on the disposal of a property.

With the increasing market value of residential properties, this relief can offer significant tax savings.

Catherine McGovern PDK

This ThinkBusiness advice clinic is in association with PKF O’Connor, Leddy & Holmes. Article by Catherine McGovern, tax director.

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New film studios for Dublin and Ireland’s best cinemas

A proposal is in development to build new film studios in Dublin. The film making industry in Ireland is worth an estimated €550 million a year.


James Morris, a founder of Windmill Lane Studios and film producer Alan Moloney, have confirmed they are developing proposals to create studios on the former Irish Glass Bottle site at Ringsend.

James Hickey, chief executive of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board says this “is very good news for the Irish film and television industry”.

“There is an urgent need for more studio infrastructure in Ireland to create more employment opportunities in the audio-visual industry, building on the success of the sector to date.”

180,000 sq. ft. of studio space, with additional space for production services and several individual sound stages, will be built on the site.

The studios will aim to attract local and international film and television production activity.

Current Irish film studios include Ashford Studios where the TV series Vikings is currently filming and Ardmore Studios in Co. Wicklow where the TV show Penny Dreadful has been filming for the last number of years.

Six of the best cinemas in Ireland

The International Union of Cinemas says that Ireland has the most cinema goers of any country in the EU, with 2015 being a record year for cinema admissions. Ireland has more than double the EU average of cinema admissions per capita; Ireland boasts 3.3 admissions per capita while our nearest rivals, France and the UK, have 3.1 and 2.7 respectively.

Lighthouse Cinema

Located in the Market Square in Smithfield, the Lighthouse cinema is regarded as one of the coolest places to catch a movie in Dublin. The Lighthouse distinguishes itself from its competitors by offering punters a mixture of Hollywood blockbusters, old classics and art-house films. A stone’s throw from the achingly cool Stoneybatter, the cinema is surrounded by a wealth of hip pubs and restaurants.

Eye Cinema

Galway’s locally-owned Eye bills itself as “the cinema that Galway deserves but has never had”. It sets itself apart from the big cinema chains by giving customers a choice of both mainstream film as well as more arthouse offerings. Visitors get the full multiplex experience with multiple screens, cafés, bars and an ice cream parlour. However, its Eye’s commitment to culture (as well as independent cinema it also host live events with musicians, poets, and comedians) that makes Eye the best in the West.

Phoenix Cinema Dingle

This family-run cinema is just another reason to love Dingle; an adult ticket to its nightly evening showing is only €8 while a matinee ticket will set you back €5.50. The 150 seat cinema also has its ‘Art Film’ night on Tuesdays, with tea and biscuits thrown in for good measure. A good option following a day exploring the Wild Atlantic Way or one of the town’s other attractions.

Century Cinemas

Another family run business, Century has been bringing cinema to Letterkenny for over 75 years. It has all the trappings of a multiplex with eight screens, stadium seating, and 3D movies. However, it also broadcasts live theatre and dance productions. In 2013 it opened its very own ice skating rink, Century Ice, so there’s no shortage of things to do in this enterprising venue.


Home of the Irish Film Institute, Temple Bar’s IFI is the go-to cinema for Dublin film buffs who want to get their fix of the latest in cutting-edge movie making. Its Georgian building gives visitors a cosy cinema-going experience, while its bar and café give people a place to hang out before sampling what’s on offer on the big screen.

Movie Junction

Cork’s Movie Junction is Ireland’s only dedicated drive in cinema, open seven nights a week. Visitors pick up snacks at the drive-thru kiosk, pull up in the parking bay, tune into the Movie Junction FM frequency on the car radio, then sit back and enjoy the latest blockbuster. Pizzas and chips can be ordered and delivered to your car door, and canopies keep your windscreen clear when it rains. A little slice of American culture in County Cork.

READ: The film sector is big business. If you want to open a cinema find the right finance.

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Five ‘quirky’ Irish business ideas

From the most haunted house in Ireland to ‘glamping’ in airplanes, here are five quirky ideas that became real businesses. 

Eva Milka

A business woman in Carlow is breeding snails and selling them abroad. 

Who knew there was a gap in the market for snails in Ireland? Eva Milka found them difficult to find when she moved to Ireland and decided to start breeding them for her own consumption. However, when she heard there was a shortage of escargot globally, she realised Ireland’s rain-soaked soil was perfect for mass snail production. She discovered early on that the traditional French method of snail breeding doesn’t work in the Irish climate, so she developed a unique ‘Irish method’ of breeding on her one acre Carlow farm. While domestic demand is modest, food connoisseurs on mainland Europe have been clamouring to try Milka’s Gaelic snails.  

boeing 767

A funeral director in Sligo has sailed a Boeing jet across the sea and wants you to camp in it.

If you’re interested in camping along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, but you don’t fancy messing around with a tent, there’s a funeral director in Sligo who’ll put you up in a disused taxi, a boat, a train carriage, a double decker bus or a Boeing 767. David McGowan’s ‘Quirky Camping Village’ received national attention ever since it came to light that he’d purchased the Boeing 767 from Shannon airport and was transporting the jet to the campsite by boat. The Boeing came safely ashore in May, 2016

spy bus dublin

A Mum in Balbriggan has bought a Dublin Bus and is using it to train children to become spies. 

Lifelong James Bond and Sherlock Holmes fanatic Olive Gilsenan almost gave up on her dream of opening a spy training camp for kids when she struggled to find cost-effective premises for her activities. Then in 2015, the Dublin mum discovered that Dublin Bus was selling out-of-service buses. The idea for Spy Bus was born. Available for both parties and summer camps, Spy Bus promises activities like target shooting and code breaking for kids and forensics and ballistics classes for teenagers.  

loftus hall haunted house

There’s a haunted mansion in Wexford that’s been transformed into a tourist hotspot. 

Located on the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, Loftus Hall is a 22 bedroom mansion that’s supposedly haunted by the Devil and the ghost of the young woman he tormented there. English planters the Loftus family took over the estate in 1666, and the story goes that the devil came to pay the house a visit during a storm and caused a bit of a stir. The 60-acre estate has changed hands numerous times since (Bono was rumoured to be the owner at one point), before being purchased by Aidan Quigley in 2011. It’s now a tourist attraction, offering interactive guided tours of ‘the most haunted house in Ireland’. 

Men in spandex are pummelling each other with steel chairs before bloodthirsty, paying audiences.  

Professional wrestlers Leonard Hanna and Joey Cabray struck gold when they realised there was an appetite for an adults-only, edgier brand of wrestling. They ran their first event, Over the Top Wrestling, in the Tivoli theatre in 2014 and have quickly developed a cult following in Dublin. The monthly events are sell-outs, with people flocking to check out the over the top, often violent brawls on display. 


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READ: I have a great business idea but I need to raise money. How do I do it?

Article by Peter Flanagan. Images from;; Eva Milka; and Philip Lange /

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