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Burning ambition helps torched business to rise from the ashes

Imagine seeing your business, nurtured and developed for almost 20 years, as well as your family home, going up in smoke. On December 23, 2010, Tipperary man Mark Molloy found himself in exactly that position.

At around 5pm that evening, an electrical fault in the basement of his family's period home sparked a blaze that destroyed the entire basement floor and part of the ground floor.

The rest of the house was severely smoke-damaged.

"Thankfully, there was no-one in the house at the time," recalls Mark. "I had gone to feed the horses and everyone else was out."

Crossogue House, located close to Thurles, dates back to the mid-1800s and was bought by Mark's family several generations back and he subsequently inherited the property from his parents.

For the past 20 years, the Georgian house has been home to the Molloys and a growing number of guests from Ireland, Europe and beyond. As a well-established destination for teenage residential equestrian camps, Crossogue's reputation was such that there was a waiting list for places.

The fire disaster looked like it could spell an end to the success of Crossogue and the Molloy family's hard work.

However, Mark's resilience and determination to rebuild the business was underestimated -- just seven months after Crossogue House was damaged, the enterprising farmer-turned-tourism operator had restored the house in time for the summer's guests.

The remarkable story of Crossogue's rise from the ashes is set to feature in the RTE programme At Your Service, which airs this Sunday, January 29 at 8.30pm.

At Your Service is hosted by expert hoteliers -- and brothers -- Francis and John Brennan from the five-star Park Hotel in Kenmare. The series is essentially a business makeover series, in which they assist B&Bs, guesthouses and small hotels throughout Ireland that need urgent help.

"The Brennans arrived at Crossogue in the aftermath of the fire," recalls Mark. "One of the best pieces of advice they gave me was to use the fire as an opportunity to re-design the guest accommodation."

Until that point, Crossogue's period accommodation had been used for teenagers on equestrian residential camps, as well as for adult guests on midweek and weekend breaks.

"I took their advice on board and designed the basement floor into a haven for the teenagers," he says. "Now our teenage guests have dormitory-style bedrooms with bunk beds, new shower rooms and a den for playing video games and watching TV."

This gave Mark the space to renovate the accommodation upstairs into luxury boutique hotel-style bedrooms, ideal for adult guests.

Since the house was restored, Mark now has a renewed focus on increasing the number of adult guests in his home.

"We now have a defined season for adult guests, from March to June 16 and August 18 to November 24," he says.

"It means that our guests can completely relax and enjoy Crossogue for what we would like it to be -- a home away from home."

Mark's calm demeanour belies the fact that he runs a very busy business that also incorporates a sheep flock, 12 thoroughbred broodmares and seven point-to-point horses in training.

His aim is to provide a top-class equestrian holiday to everyone from the complete beginner to the experienced rider, with a particular focus on cross-country riding.

"We usually carry about 25 horses at any one time for the guests' use," he says.

The horses range in age from five up to 20 and in rideability, from push-button to more challenging.

"They are mainly Irish-bred horses because when your guests are riding cross-country, you need that intelligence that an Irish horse has," he says. "I also want a range of horses to suit different levels of rider."

The farm's equestrian facilities include a 60x30m sand and rubber arena, an all-weather gallop and a range of rides through fields, mature woodland and alongside the Farney river.

However, the property's cross-country course is the biggest draw for many of Mark's guests. With more than 100 fences spread across the 230ac farm, riders can pick and choose their route.

Fences range in height from six inches to three-foot eight inches and include natural logs, an impressive stone-faced steps complex, tricky corners and impressive timber rails.

The Crossogue horses all have at least one season's hunting done, which Mark believes is essential training for any cross-country horse.

"It gives them that 'fifth leg' they need cross-country and they become more savvy," he says.

Another of his policies is never to sell the Crossogue horses.

"We have one horse here called de Klerk who turns 20 this year and we still have guests who ask after him," says Mark.

"They like the sense of continuity and many of our guests will ask for the same horse year after year."

'At Your Service', featuring Mark's struggle to get Crossogue up and running after the fire, runs on RTE 1, Sunday, January 29, at 8.30pm

Indo Farming