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Tributes to US woman Connie who set up Botanic Taste Fest

By Ivan Little

An American woman who helped put Belfast on the international food map at an unlikely time during the Troubles has died at home in Chicago.

Connie Cunningham pioneered the Taste Fest in Belfast's Botanic Gardens in 1991, even though some sceptics questioned the wisdom of her move.

Thousands of people turned out over three days to sample the wares of restaurants such as The Ballymac, Ginger Tree, Iona and the Metropolitan, alongside food from producers like Cuan Sea Fisheries.

Connie picked Botanic Gardens as a neutral venue for everyone during tense days in the city.

The Taste Fest ran for nine consecutive years.

Connie was also approached to replicate the idea in London and it was later copied all around the world.

"It was a great success, not only in meeting the promotional needs of restaurants and NI food producers, but the people of Northern Ireland who simply enjoyed a day out at Belfast's largest garden party, with good food and entertainment," said her husband, Victor, who is from Belfast.

Connie also launched a celebration called Halloween Hullabaloo, and a Valentine's Day event called Be Mine in Belfast.

After returning to the States to care for her ailing mother, Connie came back to Belfast and revived the Taste and Musical Fest in 2009 with even more restaurants participating. She also flew in chefs from the States.

Victor said: "Connie ran the Fest for two more years after 2009 before she had to retire back to the States."

He said she had fallen in love with Belfast and wanted to play a part in bringing people together.

Victor broke the news of his 71-year-old wife's death in a message to their many friends here.

Entertainment promoter and DJ Brian Moore, who hosted a number of Connie's extravaganzas, commented: "Of all the events I have done, the Belfast Taste and Music Fests were big favourites.

"And I was always in awe of the fact that Connie pulled this marvellous event together back when Belfast was a far from happy place."

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