It's hard to find new topics for music sometimes and Songfacts is a lovely site for inspiration. I will put the explanation with the songs.
This is about the United Kingdom miners' strike of 1984. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had instituted a policy where mines that were considered unprofitable were shut down. Bono wanted to explore the impact the strike had on the miner's friends and families. The song was inspired by folk music. Bono wanted The Joshua Tree to explore various forms of American music they had encountered while touring there.
This song was inspired by the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, when a bomb planted by the IRA exploded during a Remembrance Day service at Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, killing 11 people and injuring at least 63. Simple Minds lead singer Jim Kerr explained to Q magazine in 1989: "In the second part of 'Belfast Child' I'm trying to relate to people in Northern Ireland who've also lost loved ones. I'm trying to talk about the madness and sadness and emptiness. I'm not saying I have any pearls of wisdom, but I have a few questions to ask. When I'm asked on American TV who my heroes are, rather than saying Lou Reed or Bob Dylan or someone who goes without saying, I say there are these people called Amnesty International and what they are doing I think is rather heroic. It only takes about 30 seconds."
The music is based on a traditional song called "She Moved Through The Fair," which Jim Kerr heard for the first time a few days after the bombing and decided to use the melody for this song.
Traditionally an Irish folk song, this was covered by The Dubliners in 1967 before Thin Lizzy rocked it up in 1972 for their breakthrough hit. (thanks, Brad - Brisbane, Australia)
This tells the story of a bandit in southwest Ireland who robs an English Army Officer to keep his girlfriend Molly happy after she promises to love him forever. She then betrays him and the young man is taken to jail.
This is a loose adaptation of the 1848 Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts." The song's melody has been borrowed from on many previous occasions including in Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet score "Appalachian Spring." Also English hymnwriter Sydney Carter adapted the tune for his 1963 song "Lord of the Dance."
According to Neville Judd's authorized biography, The Dark And The Rolling Sea "is a relationship song turned into a metaphor". The melody is based on an Irish ballad "The Maid Of County Down."
In Medieval England, this became a popular folk song as Bards would sing it when they traveled from town to town. The author of the song is unknown, and many different versions exist. The traditional version has many more lyrics. Paul Simon learned about this song when he was on tour in England, where he heard a version by a popular folk singer named Martin Carthy. When Carthy heard Simon & Garfunkel's rendition, he accused Simon of stealing his arrangement. Carthy and Simon did not speak until 2000, when Simon asked Carthy to perform this with him at a show in London. Carthy put his differences aside and did the show.
Martin Carthy learned the song from a Ewan MacColl songbook, and had recorded it on his first album, according to BBC's Patrick Hamphries.Paul Simon admitted to the July 2011 edition of Mojo magazine: "The version I was playing was definitely what I could remember of Martin's version, but he didn't teach it to me. Really, it was just naivety on my part that we didn't credit it as his arrangement of a traditional tune. I didn't know you had to do that. Then later on, Martin's publisher contacted me and we made a pretty substantial monetary settlement that he was supposed to split with Martin, But unbeknown to me, Martin got nothing."
The lyrics are about a man trying to attain his true love. In Medieval times, the herbs mentioned in the song represented virtues that were important to the lyrics. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.
This was not released as a single until 1968, when it was used in the Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate. It is on the soundtrack.