Like her great-aunt Leila Elberta Ross-Shier, nee McTaggart, who wrote the Cayman national song ”Beloved Isle Cayman,” Kerry McTaggart sees Cayman as the “most beautiful island in the world” and has put pen to paper to prove it.
After 1930, when Ms. Ross-Shier composed “Beloved Isle Cayman,” the song for many years was regarded as the unofficial national song. It became the official national song in 1993 when the Cayman Islands Coat of Arms, Flag and National Song Law was passed.
Ms. McTaggart’s poems about Cayman echo her great-aunt’s obvious pride and love of Cayman and she hopes her poems will also touch the hearts of the people of the Cayman Islands.
She writes of the islands’ beauty, with wealth untold and days of old; stunning sunsets with dots of green, and memories of friends and family.
Her writings feature many well-loved favorites, including guineps, rose apples, mangoes, patties, bullas, turtle stew, Johnny cakes, tamarind drink and heavy cakes, as well as memories of sea breezes mixed with Miss Lillian’s egg custards and custard top corn bread. Traditional music, laughter and happy times are some of her fondest memories of Cayman.
It took a back injury to get her creativity in gear. As pictures of Cayman and her childhood memories flooded her mind, she put pen to paper.
“One day I was lying in bed and the words ‘Born in Bethlehem’ just popped in my head. I wrote it down and that was the first song,” she said. Since 2000, she has written more than 200 songs and poems, many of which are posted on the website poems.com.
“Growing up in Cayman was the best,” said the 71-year-old as she soaked up the sun and sea breezes with family members at Moon Bay Condos in Bodden Town recently.
She left Cayman when she was young with mother Natalie, but never stopped thinking about “Big Mama’s” house on Edward Street.
Big Mama’s house was where her grandparents, Doris and Innis McTaggart, lived. They raised 10 children in Grand Cayman – Mac, Doris, Mary, her mother Natalie, Peggy, June, Nettie, Ella, Bill and Gary.
Growing up in Big Mama’s house, Ms. McTaggart enjoyed the simple life that Cayman offered in those days – the ring of the Elmslie church bells on Sunday mornings, the crabbing, the swimming, the snorkeling and the singing. She rode bikes with her many friends and went to John Gray High School.
“I remember riding round the post office and going down to the market on Cardinall Avenue to see the turtles lying on their backs … Big Mama would cook turtle stew on the weekends,” she said.
She loved the smell of wood and books at her grandparent’s house and the many trips exploring her grandfather’s workshop. She loved when Willie came round selling almonds in a Coke bottle and could not wait for her grandmother to sugar them to make almond candy.
“I didn’t want to leave,” she recalled.
The first thing she goes looking for when back in Cayman is almond candies, patties and heavy cakes.
She remembers her Uncle Mac’s wife ,Aunt Jerry, coming by in a station wagon to take her to the beach for a birthday party, and picking cocoplums and seagrapes which were everywhere.
“It makes me sad, I can’t believe Seven Mile Beach road is gone … you can’t drive by and see the sea anymore … that just broke my heart when I saw that. I know they need more room for cars and things like that, but why did they have to take our road by the beach … there is too much concrete going on,” she said.
Ms. McTaggart remembers the school choir and days hanging out at Seaview House’s salt-water pool. She recalls Big Mama flinging open the porch door and playing the piano, and pictures herself as a young girl touching the ceiling from the porch swing.
“We would have to pump water up to a fifty gallon drum that was on the top of the house, but it was great. We didn’t have much fans or air condition[ing] but I don’t ever remember being hot,” she said.
Every night, the electric lights would come on at 6 p.m. and go off at 10 p.m. “You’d better have the lamps lit or you would be left in darkness,” but that was all a part of the simple island life, she said.
A poem by Kerry McTaggart
The most beautiful Islands you will ever behold,
In the Caribbean Sea with wealth untold;
Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman,
Were one untouched and Oh, so Grand.
The Pirates in the days of old,
Buried their Treasures of Purest Gold.
Their Trinkets and Doubloons hid beneath the sand,
Were later found in Grand Cayman.
The Beautiful Sunsets with a Dot of Green,
Are the prettiest sights I have ever seen.
The walks on the beach with sand in my toes,
The Breeze in my hair, the salt on my skin,
Have always a part of my memories been.
My childhood there was the best you see;
My Cousins, My Friends and my Family.
The Guineps, Rose Apples, Mangoes and More.
The Coconuts, Ackee and Limes Galore!
Plums, Bananas, plantains to fry.
Cassava, Rice and Beans.
The Patties, the Bullas, the Rundown, Oh My!
And Lillian’s Egg Custard for which I would die!
The Snapper, the Grouper, Conch, Turtle and Stew.
Heavy cake, Custardtop Cornbread; that was just a few,
Of the foods you will find made by Caymanian Hands.
You have never tasted food so Grand!
So come to our Island by Air or by Sea;
Just relax and Enjoy our Therapy!
The Sun, The Sand and our Emerald Sea!