After Eugene’s death, the family moves rooms again—once again, Angela says she can’t stand living in the place where her son died. They move to a room that’s farther from school, meaning that Frank gets less time at home in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Angela “sees” Eugene everywhere. Nevertheless, she remains a devoted mother to Frank and Malachy Jr., and keeps going to St. Vincent de Paul to pick up used mattresses and other furniture. Shortly after moving in, Angela realizes that the outhouse, which is right next to the McCourts’ house, is used by all eleven families on their street, and it’s filthy. She says that they’ll need to move once again—but Malachy Sr. insists that this will be impossible and impractical.
Angela doesn’t forget about her dead children, but she doesn’t wallow in her memories either—instead, she goes ahead with the duties of being a mother, obtaining food, money, and furniture for her offspring. Malachy’s insistence that moving is impractical is especially infuriating, considering how little he does to support his own family—there’s not a “practical” bone in his body.
It’s nearly time for Christmas in Limerick. The McCourt family gets less unemployment money because of the twins’ deaths—16 shillings a week instead of 19. Malachy Sr. tries to get work at local mils and factories, but he’s turned away because of his Northern Irish accent and ill-fitting clothing. In the evenings he still drinks sometimes, and still wakes Frank and his brother up to make them promise to die for Ireland. One day, Frank comes home from school to find his home flooded. The family moves to the room upstairs, which they nickname “Italy,” because it’s warm and dry. Angela and Malachy Sr. have had to sell their furniture to make ends meet. At the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Angela is able to get sausages and a pig’s head to eat for Christmas, but no ham or goose.
Malachy Sr. is both a victim of Irish social tensions and the architect of his own misery. The prejudices against Northerners certainly make it difficult for him to find work, but his alcoholism and mental instability also endanger his work opportunities. It’s painfully ironic that Malachy Sr. seems so devoted to dying for Ireland, considering that his own countrymen refuse to help him out in his time of need, and his time in Ireland has seemingly brought him nothing but misery. The children dream about an “exotic” place like Italy, where they imagine that it is always warm and dry—the opposite of Ireland.
On Christmas Day, the McCourts are in a crisis. They find that they’ve run out of coal, and they have to search for stray lumps of coal in the streets outside their home. Luckily they’re able to find some, and they have a large meal, complete with pig’s head. It rains all day, but inside their home the McCourts are happy.
The McCourts, in the depths of their poverty, train themselves to find happiness in small moments. Even when they’re cold and poor, they find ways to celebrate Christmas.
Soon after Christmas, Angela gives birth to a new child, Michael. As a baby, Michael has trouble breathing, but Malachy Sr. is able to keep him alive by sucking the mucus from Michael’s nose, an act Frank finds both wondrous and disgusting. Angela is able to take care of her child by relying on the charity of the de Paul Society. Government administrators come to the McCourt’s house and ask Malachy Sr.—supposedly for census purposes—about why he’s unemployed, along with other similar questions. Angela asks the census takers for boots for her children, but the men reply that this isn’t their job.
It’s remarkable that the McCourts continue giving birth to children in their time of extreme poverty, as they have too many mouths to feed as it is. But Catholicism dictates that parents must not use birth control of any kind (and also encourages people to have large families). It’s almost amusing when the census takers ask Malachy about his financial situation, as by now we can see how much more there really is to Malachy’s story. Here, for example, we seen an instance of him being a good father—essentially keeping his child alive with his own breath.
In school, Frank and his brother are the poorest students by far—sometimes, they don’t even wear boots. Frank’s teachers yell at his peers for teasing him, and point out that even Jesus Christ couldn’t afford boots. Over time, Frank becomes more familiar with the rules of Christianity. He prays to Christ and celebrates Easter by going to Mass with his father.
Even though Frank is poor, there’s a kind of camaraderie in his financial situation. The schoolmasters in school protect Frank from bullying and teasing, as they (like many of the generous adults in his life) probably pity him and sympathize with his situation. Frank begins to get a sense for the ubiquity of Catholicism in Limerick life.
In the spring, Malachy Sr. gets his first job in months—at a cement factory. Angela is overjoyed, because she won’t have to wait at the de Paul Society to collect charity. Still, Malachy Sr. has to leave for work very early every day—around 6 am. On the first Friday after Malachy Sr. gets his new job, the entire family waits for him to come home with money and food. Hours pass, and Angela begins to cry—her husband still isn’t home. Suddenly, Frank hears his father’s voice, singing a loud, drunken song. Malachy Sr. staggers into his home, shouting about dying for Ireland. Soon afterwards, he oversleeps and loses his job.
Malachy Sr.’s life is a pattern of endless attempts and failures—every time he says he’s going to sober up and get a job, he fails spectacularly. Whenever he embarks on a new mission, Malachy Sr. seems to genuinely believe that he’ll succeed in his aims, even when he seems doomed from the start. As ever, Frank’s “voice” is understated—he doesn’t express his outrage, but the outrageousness of the situation is apparent enough.