Phelan fought in the War of Independence and was involved in an IRA attack on a train at Upton in county Cork on 15 February 1921. Cork was the most violent county in the War of Independence, with several active IRA brigades, and the Third (West Cork) Brigade was the most deadly. It was a unit from this brigade that carried out the Upton train ambush.
Irish republicans in Liverpool want to commemorate an IRA gunman who was born in Liverpool and died in the Upton train attack. However they probably prefer to forget the fact that the IRA squad of which he was a member murdered six civilians and wounded ten more in that attack at Upton back in February 1921.