Angela decides to move her family from Harstonge Street to a house on Roden Lane, because the room on Harstonge Street reminds her too much of Eugene. The St. Vincent de Paul Society gives the family some secondhand furniture. When they move into their new place, the McCourts discover that eleven families use the lavatory that’s built next to their house. Malachy wants to hang up his picture of Pope Leo XIII, whom he identifies as a friend of the workingman. While driving a nail into the wall to hang the picture, he cuts his hand and drips blood onto the picture.
Angela despairs at the reduced sixteen shillings a week that the family has to live on. Because Eugene and Oliver have died, the family gets less money from public assistance. Malachy McCourt Sr. takes himself off on long walks into the countryside and looks for work. When he does find work, he drinks away his earnings. In his mind, the dole money goes to his family, and the money he earns with a day’s work on a farm goes to the bar.
Two weeks before Christmas, Frank and Malachy return from school to find that the first floor of their house has flooded. The family moves into the upstairs room, which they nickname “Italy” because it is warm and dry. Angela goes to the butcher’s to get meat for Christmas, but all she is able to obtain with her grocery dockets is a pig’s head. As they carry home the meat, Frank’s classmates see them and laugh at their poverty. Frank’s father is disgusted that Frank had to carry the head home. He considers carrying things through the streets undignified, and refuses to do it himself.
On Christmas morning, Malachy and Frank attend Mass with their father and go to collect leftover coal strewn over the Dock Road so that their mother can cook the pig’s head. Pa Keating meets the boys on the street and convinces the landlord of South’s pub to give them a bag of real coal. They drag the coal home through the rain, passing cozy houses. Children laugh at them from inside the houses, taunting them and calling them “Zulus” because they are smeared with black coal. When they get home, Angela cooks the pig’s head, and the family has a jolly Christmas dinner.
Angela gives birth to a baby, Michael, whom Frank’s father says was left by an angel on their seventh stair. Frank names this seraph the “Angel on the Seventh Step,” and annoys his father by asking lots of questions on this and other topics. Angela returns from hospital with Michael, who is sick with a cold. When the baby stops breathing, Frank’s father saves his life by sucking the mucus out of his nose.
Men from the welfare society turn up and inspect the house. Angela asks the men for boots for her sons, prompting an irritable comment from her husband that she should “never beg like that.” She asks if he’d prefer that the boys go barefoot. To prove to her that he can fix their shoes, Frank’s father mends the boys’ boots using pieces of old tire. The next day, Frank and Malachy’s schoolmates taunt them for wearing ridiculous-looking boots. Frank’s schoolmaster tells his class that no one in the class is rich, that you don’t see Jesus “on the cross sporting shoes,” and that he will whip anyone who continues to tease the McCourts.