He was Jimmy O'Carter of County Sumpter hobnobbing for the evening with a bunch of Irish pols.

"I'm particularly hopeful all the Irish politicians of Boston will be able to keep their present positions," he told them.

It was no blarney either, for the O'Carters had sprinkled the White House with shamrocks last night and invited in 250 people for Irish songs, Irish readings, Irish potatoes and Irish bagpipers at a little St. Patrick's party at the White House.

Getting Mr. Irish himself, House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil didn't hurt a bit.

And while Carter mentioned a whole lot of Irishmen in the world of arts and letters, he also mentioned one named Kennedy who had been in the White House before him.

"Somebody asked John F. Kennedy what his favorite song was," Carter said. "And Kennedy said, 'I think "Hail to the Chief" has a certain lilt.' It's not the only thing he and I have in common."

"He's been the luckiest man in American politics, and I don't think it'll change," said John White, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

When a reporter told White that the White House press corps was getting bored and asked when Carter was going to start traveling, he said "if Carter wins Illinois, you'll never see him -- it'll be as if he doesn't exist."

Carter's economic message drew a few comments.

"We'll pass the substance of it and we'll cut everything a little bit except defense," predicted Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex).

Lane Kirkland, head of the AFL-CIO, said he had put out a statement denouncing Carter's spending cuts as hitting labor the hardest. Asked whether this, or anything else, could hurt Carter politically Kirkland said: "Now you're tempting me to say things I shouldn't."

The Irish Foreign Minister Brian Lenihan, who marched in New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade with Mrs. Carter earlier in the day, brought a Waterford vase full of genuine Irish shamrocks.

"A shamrock presented on St. Patrick's Day is designed to bring great luck to the recipient," he told the president, and the audience burst into applause.

Actress Faye Dunaway and playwright William Alfred performed readings from Irish authors and New Yorker drama critic Brendan Gill provided narration. There were green carnations in the lapels of secret service agents, green ribbons on some of the women and a green eye patch on at least one of the men. A 10-foot shamrock hung above the front door and below it, playing songs by George M. Cohna, were 40 members of the Saffron Kilts Irish Pipe Band of Babylon, N.Y. But there was no Irish whiskey.

As Jimmy Carter told his guests: "It's the first time in 40 years that Millie had ever seen Tip [O'Neill] sober on St. Patrick's Day."