POOR women who enjoyed a cup of tea were once considered as irresponsible as whisky drinkers, new research has unearthed.

Durham University researchers have found evidence that drinking tea, now considered the most harmless of pastimes, was viewed as reckless and uncontrollable in 19th Century Ireland.

Women who drank tea wasted their time and money, it was said, drawing them away from their duty to care for their husbands and home and therefore harmed the economy.

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The research, published today (December 5) in the academic journal Literature and History, found evidence of campaigners trying to stamp out the harmful practice of tea drinking among peasant women.

Author Dr Helen O’Connell, Lecturer in English Studies at Durham University, said: "Peasant women were condemned for putting their feet up with a cup of tea when they should be getting a hearty evening meal ready for their hard-working husbands.

"The reformers, who were middle to upper-class, were trying to get the peasant women to change their ways, albeit in a somewhat patronising way, for the greater good of the country.

"The reformers made it clear they saw tea-drinking as reckless and uncontrollable."

She added: "The prospect of poor peasant women squandering already scarce resources on fashionable commodities such as tea was a worry, but it also implied that drinking tea could even express a form of revolutionary feminism for these women.

"If that wasn’t enough, there were also supposedly drug-like qualities of tea, an exotic substance from China, which was understood to become addictive over time".