The title immediately makes us think of some kind of cremation and the death of Angela, the main character, who is actually one of the few characters who doesn't die or otherwise disappear in the book. As we read the novel and find out more about Angela, the mother of the narrator who has to fight so hard for survival, we can see that the ashes of the title refer to both the ashes that come from the tips of Angela's cigarettes, which are one of the few comforts she allows herself, and then also the way that her life is characterised by "ashes" as she struggles to make ends meet and to provide for her children inspite of a drunken husband and no prospects. Consider the following quote from Chapter 9, which is when the narrator's father has gone to England to work, but sends no money over to help support his family:
Mam turns toward the dead ashes in the fire and sucks at the last bit of goodness in the Woodbine butt caught between the brown thumb and the burnt middle finger. Michael . . . wants to know if we’re having fish and chips tonight because he’s hungry. Mam says, Next week, love, and he goes back out to play in the lane.
This quote signals the increasing unhappiness and depression of the narrator's mother as more time passes without any money from England. The ashes in the fire that she seems to focus on so intently symbolise what has happened to Angela's hopes. Her plans of being able to provide for her family and take care of them well are all burnt and nothing remains of them, except the cigarettes from which she extracts comfort. Frank knows that the promise she makes of buying fish and chips next week is an empty one, because it is dependent on their father sending them money, which he now recognises is something that will never happen.