The night before his sixteenth birthday, Frank goes to South's pub for his traditional first pint. Since his father is unavailable, Pa Keating accompanies him. The men in the pub "lift their pints" to Frank, and as they discuss the Second World War, Frank gets drunk. After leaving the pub, he feels melancholy and decides he must go to confession before he turns sixteen. However, he is sent away from the rectory because he's drunk. At home, Frank argues with Angela, who prays that he won't end up a drunkard like his father. He tells her he knows she's been sleeping with Laman and slaps her when she tells him to watch his tongue. He feels horrible because now he has another sin to contend with but rationalizes his behavior, believing that it's Angela's fault.
The following day, the confused boy goes to the Franciscan Church. Father Gregory notices him crying and in a flood of emotion Frank tells him everything that's on his mind. The priest assures him that God has forgiven him and that now he must forgive himself. The priest also assures him that Teresa is in heaven.
Frank beings work for Easons, delivering The Irish Times. Although forbidden by the Church and his boss to read the Protestant paper, Frank reads it voraciously nevertheless. He spends most of one day running around town tearing out an article on contraception-a topic banned by the Irish government. One of the delivery boys, Eamon, tells Frank that he should the torn out copies of the article on the streets of Limerick. He thus earns nine pounds, eight of which he puts in to his America savings account for America, and buys food for his family.
Angela gets work caring for the wealthy Mr. Sliney, a friend of Mr. Timoney's. When Frank visits his mother at Sliney's, he realizes she likes her new job in the airy big house. Frank continues working at Easons, riding the bike through, reading at every spare moment and dreaming of America. His brother Malachy gets a job in Coventry at the gas works shoveling coal. He too wants to return to America.
Frank delivers papers for three years while also writing letters for Mrs. Finucane. On the day before he is to turn nineteen, she dies, and Frank robs her of seventeen pounds he finds in her purse and of another forty pounds from her upstairs trunk. He takes a bottle of sherry and flings her ledger into the River Shannon. Thus he frees all the indebted people of Limerick, including Aunt Aggie.
He is free to flee to America. His mother cries and Frank walks the streets of Limerick pensively. The family gives Frank a going away party and soon he finds himself aboard the Irish Oak, sailing out of Cork. On the sea, he regrets leaving until a priest from Limerick, on his way home to Los Angeles, comforts him.
The sight of New York Harbor seems like movie; the ship continues to Albany to dock. On the way, it stops in Poughkeepsie, where the ship's officers and the priest are invited to a party. The priest invites Frank as his guest and soon Frank finds himself surrounded by gorgeous, eager American women. He winds up having sex with a woman named Frieda, to the priest's consternation. Back on the ship, the wireless officer says to him, "This a great country altogether" (362).
Frank responds to the wireless officer, "'Tis," in the final one-word chapter.
Immigration has played a major role in the history of Ireland. For a small country with a large population, immigration was the only way many Irish could earn a living and support their families. And, while the Irish have scattered all over the world, America was widely considered the land of opportunity. Despite many obstacles, Frank McCourt chooses America as a means to escape poverty and to achieve success.
The last section of his memoir demonstrates the effect of emigration on the Irish family. Earlier, Malachy Sr. goes to England to work and send home money to his starving family. However, he disappears as many others did and remained as a permanent immigrant in England. (He will turn up again in McCourt's follow-up book, 'Tis). Malachy Jr. also leaves Ireland for England in the manner of his father but keeps in touch with his family, and, because England is so close to Ireland, returns home occasionally.
Frank's journey, however, is much more serious than his brothers. His family gives him "an American wake" before he departs, because they never expect to see "the departing one again in this life" (356). In many emigrating families, an older sibling led the way to America and there earned the money to send for the next sibling, and so forth. In chapter seventeen, after Frank announces his departure, Angela weeps and Michael asks, "Will we all go someday?" Frank answers, "We will" (354). And at the end of chapter seventeen, we see the McCourts waiting to follow in Frank's steps. Malachy Jr. has a job in Coventry, "waiting for the day he can go to America after me" (353).
Frank's task of raising money for America is as arduous a journey as the voyage itself. He literally begs, borrows and steals the money, saving every spare penny to make his dream a reality. The idea of remaining in Limerick horrifies him, though it aches his heart to leave. And, although he is tempted to spoil himself with food and movies, he foregoes these luxuries to accomplish his goal-America.
Upon his approach, Frank sees the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Empire State Building and "the sun turns everything to gold" (359), recalling the old clichÃ© that America is the land where "the streets are paved with gold." And in addition to leaving Ireland, Frank also casts aside his overwhelming guilt associated with his sexuality. At the party in Chapter 18, he thoroughly enjoys a sexual encounter while the priest knocks on the door outside: "Father would you ever take a running jump for yourself?" (361). This question seems directed at the repressive nature of his past, which, at least at this stage in young McCourt's life, he has finally left behind him.