Frank decides to start a soccer team with his brother Malachy and his friend Billy Campbell. Frank remembers a red flapper dress his mother bought in New York, which she keeps to remind her of her dancing days, and the dress inspires him with a name for the team: “The Red Hearts of Limerick.” Frank takes the dress from its place in an old trunk and cuts red hearts out of it for the uniforms. While looking in the trunk, Frank finds some old papers. He looks through them and learns from the date on his parents’ marriage certificate that he was born only six months after they wed. Frank wonders if his was a miraculous birth.
Mikey Molloy has just turned sixteen, and his father, Peter, takes him to the pub for his first pint. The Molloys bring Frank along and buy him a lemonade. Frank asks Mikey what it means that he was born early, and Mikey tells him he is a bastard and is doomed to spend eternity in Limbo. He also explains to Frank how babies are conceived. Frank is worried, and Mikey gives him a penny so he can pay to light a candle and pray to the Virgin Mary to save his soul.
The barman happens to say, “Everything has an opposite,” and this sets something off in Peter Molloy, who decides that if he is the pint-drinking champion of Limerick, he could also be “the champion of no pints at all.” He tells his son that he’ll stop drinking, stop driving his wife mad, and move the family to England. After the Molloys leave, Frank cannot resist using the penny to buy toffee instead of using it to pray for his soul.
On Saturday morning, Frank’s team beats a group of rich boys in a soccer game. Frank makes the goal that wins the game, which he decides was divinely ordained to prove Frank is not doomed.
Frank starts delivering coal with his next-door neighbor, Mr. Hannon, who suffers from sores on his legs. Frank feels like a real man, and he loves being able to ride on the float next to Mr. Hannon, who is gentle and kind, and to who urges Frank to go to school and read books and one day leave Ireland for America. One day Hannon waits for him outside his school, and Frank’s classmates are jealous of Frank’s manly job. They ask Frank if he can put in a good word for them at the coal yard.
Frank’s eyes are irritated by the coal dust, and one day they are so bad that even though Mr. Hannon’s legs are getting worse and worse, Angela will not let Frank continue working. On the first day that Mr. Hannon would have had to manage alone, his legs are too bad for him to go to work. He is hospitalized, and told he cannot work again. Mrs. Hannon invites Frank over, and tells him that he gave Mr. Hannon “the feeling of a son.” Frank cries.