Frankie starts off the memoir by telling the reader how his parents Angela and Malachy met in New York and how they moved back to Ireland and had four sons. Frankie explains how he was living a "miserable Irish Catholic childhood". He introduces the reader to his poverty stricken lifestyle and family.
Frankie reveals that his father is an alcoholic, his mother is depressed, and Ireland is struggling as a whole.
The McCourt family travel to Malachy's parents home in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Malachy's mother tell him Ireland is leaving many unemployed, and Frankie's grandfather tells his son to go to the IRA and ask for money. The family travel to Dublin by bus the following morning. As they arrive to their destination, a man working there refuses to support the family and does not give them any money. The whole family are forced to sleep the night in a local police barrack. The following day a police officer pays for the families travelling train fare to Limerick. As the family have arrived in Limerick, they are looked down upon by Angela's family and must all sleep on a flea infested matress. Angela has a miscarriage and her family tries to comfort her. The loss of her baby has a devastating after effect on her mind. Frankie's one year old brother Oliver becomes ill, goes to the hospital, and dies. Six months later Oliver's twin brother Eugene gets pneumonia and passes away.
The family move from Harstonge Street and now reside on Roden Lane. They have been provided for by the St. Vincent de Paul society with furniture. The government gives the family less money to live on because three family members have passed away. As christmas is right around the corner, Angela wants to cook a delicious meal. When she goes to the butchers, all she can afford is a pig's head. As Frankie walks home carrying the pig's head, all his classmates laugh at him. Angela gives birth to a baby boy, and calls him Michael. Easter arrives, where Malachy and Frankie go to Easter mass together, Frank gets a job in Limerick. The whole family is happy, but one night he does not return. Malachy goes to a pub and does not show for work the next morning. Malachy is fired.
Frankie recies his First Communion. He chokes on this holy bread. His grandmother gives him food and he throws it up in the backyard.
Angela and her husband Malachy are addicted to smoking cigarettes. They must remove their teeth and get false teeth installed. Frankies little brother Malachy puts on the false teeth, and they get stuck. He is rushed to the hospital, and he must get his tonsils removed. Frankie is to attend Irish dance lessons on Saturday. Instead of going to the lessons, Frankie goes out with his friends to the movies and to buy sweets. The dance instructor tells his parents that Frankie has not been showing up. Angela and Malachy tell Frankie to go to the priest and confess his sins.
Frankie's teacher Mr. Clohessy grows ill. Angelas goes to Frankie's school and tells him shes worried about him. Frankie is glad he is not in trouble with the school. Malachy drinks away the baby's money and for the first time Frankie is filled with rage.
Frankie is now ten years old. He is about to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Frankie and his friends spy on a girl while she is naked. The girls mother tells Angela that Frankie has to tell the priest his sins. Angela makes Frankie promise to the popes picture, that he was not watching Mona get naked. Frankie is confirmed. He then gets a nose-bleed that does not stop and is rushed to the hospital. He wipes out for a couple days, but wakes up eventually. Frankie meets a girl at the hospital. Her name was Patricia Madigan, but she died of dipthheria. Four weeks after his eleventh birthday, Frankie returns home.
Malachy leaves for England to find work in a munitions factory. Angela is excited for a new home with electricity, coats, shoes for the boys, and food. The family wait to recieve money from England, but they recieve nothing from Malachy. Angela becomes sick. Frankie steals lemonade and a loaf of bread to bring home food for Angela and his brothers. Malachy return to Limerick, but he leaves just as Angela comes out of the hospital. Frankie calls his mother a "beggar", as she stands outside church asking for food. Frankie is truly saddened.
Frankie and a couple friends create a soccer team called " The Red Hearts of Limerick". Angela does not allow Frankie to work any longer as the coal is irritating his eyes. Frankie cries as his client tells his he made him feel as if he had a son. Malachy returns a day late and misses Christmas with the family. He gives the family a box of half-eaten chocolate as a gift. Frankie dreams to go to America. The family moves to Angela's cousins home. Frankie's grandmother dies of pneumonia. Frankie's brother Malachy leaves Limerick for Dublin. He goes there to attend the Army School of Music.
Frankie visited a local library and found interest in a book called Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Miss O’ Riordan, the librarian, is so impressed with him she sends Angela a letter, telling her how lucky she is to have Frankie as her son. Mr. O'Halloran, Frankie's teacher told Angela that Frankie is brilliant and should further continue his studies. He is offered a job as a telegram carrier. His teacher is upset to find such a intelligent student having to do labor work. Miss O'Riordan tells Frankie to leave for America. The day before Frankie is supposed to go on his cycling outing with his friends, he forgets to clean Laman's chamberpot . Laman is angry with him and refuses to let Frankie borrow his bicycle. Frankie runs away from home. He goes to live with his uncle Ab Sheenan. Micheal, Frankie's younger brother is sent by Angela to uncle Ab's house to send food for Frankie. Frankie's uncle will no longer give him food, so Frankie steals milk and bread from wealthier households. He stands outside restaurant's asking for leftover fish and chips. Frankie goes to the library and decides to read a manual on sex written by Lin Yutang. He goes to a local park and goes to sleep. He dreams of virgin martyrs in swimsuits. When he wakes up, he sees people watching him as he was having a wet dream. He returns to his uncles home, steals a slice of bread, puts on his grandmothers sweater to keep warm and falls asleep.
Aunt Aggie decides to take Frankie shopping. She buys him clothing, tea and a bun at the bakery. Frank recieves his first wage. When his brother asks him for a morsel he takes him out. They go out to get fish and chips with lemonade. Frankie brings him to see a movie, purchases chocolate, and then tea and a bun. Michael moves into his uncles home with Frank. Angela decides to move in too. Frankie's brother Malachy, comes back from his schooling in Dublin.
It is a rainy day and Frankie and gives a telegram to a young girl names Theresa Carmody. He is soaked and is bleeding from falling off his bike. She tells him to fry his clothes. Theresa and Frankie have sex on the green couch. Every Saturday Frankie would try to come by and make love on the green couch, but sometimes she was sick. Theresa has to go to the hospital and soon dies. Frankie hopes he did not send her to tell for not following chastity.
Frankie turns sixteen and goes to the pub for his very first time. He comes home and tells Angela that she is disgusting for sleeping with Laman Griffin. Frankie slaps his mother across the face. He visits the church and speaks to a priest, telling him how twisted the world is in his eyes. The priest says he is forgiven. Malachy leaves for England and waits for Frankie to move to America. Frankie continues to work, writing letters, a day before his ninteeth birthday Mrs. Finucane dies. He steals fifty-seven pounds from her. He tells his mother he is leaving, Angela is very sad. The family throw him a party. The next day he goes on the ship and leaves. Frankie meets a group of women, gets drunk and has sex with one of them. The priest on the boat says "Isn’t this a great country altogether?”, Frankie replies by saying “’Tis".